Film Festival Review

Review: Another Round (Dir. Thomas Vinterberg, 2020)

LFF 2020

Thomas Vinterberg is no stranger to a filmic knees-up – the eat, drink and be merry attitude seen, however fleetingly, in the likes of Festen (1998), The Hunt (2012) and The Commune (2016). His latest film, Another Round [Druk]* takes it to a whole new level but ends up being something far more poignant than just a boozy binge with the lads.

Martin (Mads Mikkelsen), Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), Peter (Lars Ranthe) and Nikolaj (Magnus Millang) are all teachers in History, P.E., Music and Psychology respectively. One evening, they gather to celebrate Tommy’s birthday and offload their feelings about family life, (or lack thereof), work and finding contentment and happiness amid the rat race. As they fill their bellies and imbibe, Nikolaj recalls the somewhat contentious theory by Norwegian psychiatrist Finn Skårderud, that by increasing the BAC (blood alcohol content) by 0.05% – to make up for the human deficit – than we would all be more relaxed, poised, musical, open and courageous.

After a particularly rough day, melancholy Martin decides to try it out and steals a sneaky shot of vodka before his first lesson, and continues to top up throughout the day. It has the desired effect, lowers his inhibitions (as it is wan to do) and allows him, for the first time in a long time, to enjoy his job. He soon confesses all to his friends and ropes them in too. They agree but only on the condition that they treat it like a proper research project, don’t go overboard and each carry a breathalyser to ensure they stay within the boundaries set and record their findings. To justify their thesis, they site numerous Prime Ministers and Presidents, musicians and artists who all a) managed to function inebriated and b) created some of their best work while on the hooch.

Inevitably, too much of a good thing must ultimately come to an end but not before Nikolaj’s night of ‘Total Oblivion’, culminating in a cocktail concoction that would blow even the most ardent of consumer’s head off, a dance routine that brings to mind the one in Bande á part (1964) and a fishing expedition. All concluding in some of the most laugh-out-loud hilarious scenes and the greatest drunk acting committed to film in some time.

Those moments of laughter aside, Vinterberg and his co-writer Tobias Lindholm (The Hunt, The Commune) have an innate ability of being able to incite mirth only to snap an audience out of it with a cold stinging slap of reality. It’s what makes Vinterberg’s films so enjoyable; joy is tempered with poignancy – and a few dramatic gut punches for good measure. This film in spite of the inhalation of alcohol (literally at one point), it doesn’t glorify it – there are those who can stop drinking and those who can’t; the experimental drunks hiding in plain sight, and Lord knows the Danes like a snifter (and their football) and though it never delves too deeply into it, addiction and relapse are alluded to along the way.

Vinterberg also has a way of inviting the viewer in and making you care about, identify and empathise with his characters even if they make questionable decisions – Lars and his over-anxious student will certainly give you pause – so much grey in a world where black and white viewpoints are pushed. Framing is often intimate, the colour palette is gorgeous and most, if not all, scenes are beautifully lit (see also his version of Far From the Madding Crowd for more of this aesthetic), and locations quintessentially Danish. We often get seasons and sometimes up to a whole year with Vinterberg’s characters – condensed into 100+ minutes – which adds depth to the narrative and character. He has stated that whenever he writes it is always with a specific actor in mind (three of whom he reunites here from The Hunt) which is why they tend to be so believable, fleshed-out and could be why Mads was willing to go back to his roots in those glorious (madsnificent, even) final scenes.

Another Round is a spirited look at existence; youth in all its glowing glory and optimism, and veering towards the other end of the spectrum are Martin, Tommy, Lars and Nikolaj. The feelings are still there only somewhat jaded and in a creakier body. It’s a film about the wins, the losses and finding your feet at any age. During filming Vinterberg suffered a tragic loss and this film was the finished result (it is even dedicated to Ida’s memory); a really beautifully observed celebration of life and all the stuff – good and bad – it throws at you. Skål.

*Winner of Best Film at the LFF Audience Awards.

Another Round is out in UK cinemas from 2nd July.

Film Festival Review

Review: One Night in Miami (Dir. Regina King, 2020)

LFF 2020

Regina King is better known for being in front of the camera, receiving a multitude of nominations, not to mention the award wins for her consistently brilliant work. She is, however, no stranger when it comes to directing. With 14, now 15, credits to her name, it is far from surprising that the film being touted as her feature debut is as accomplished as it is. For it, she chose to transpose Kemp Powers’ (here adapting his own stage play for the screen) One Night in Miami

The premise is simple: On February 25 1964, 22-year-old Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) beat Sonny Liston (Aaron D. Alexander) to become the Heavyweight Champion of the World. In the crowd sits Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir) and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) and, providing ringside commentary, Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge). What it presupposes is that these four men meet after the fight and hole up in a room at the Hampton House Motel to discuss life, love and politics in an already changing world, during the year that would also see Clay’s transition to Islam, the Civil Rights Act signed into law, the Harlem race riots and, tragically, the murder of Sam Cooke.

Despite the title, action begins in 1963 and Clay’s fight against Henry Cooper, and from there each character is afforded their own scene to give the audience some indication where they were prior to the night in Miami. Pedants (guilty) may note that Cooke’s Johnny Carson appearance was eighteen days prior to the 25 February but is presented as happening after… However, any liberties taken with the timeline makes little difference as King adds the creative flourishes necessary to make a 90-minute one act play into a film, and ultimately it is the conversations held within that room which are the integral part. Yes, the majority takes place in the one location but it never feels confined as space is created with the camera constantly moving, through the editing, and those performances…

Not to put too fine a point on it, they are all impeccable. Hodges – close to being ubiquitous following a steady run of work released this year – slows his speech, clenches the jaw, and embodies Brown with a deadpan, quiet intelligence while Odom Jr. sings Cooke almost pitch perfect (second only to the man himself). He’s the only cast member wearing a make-up prosthetic but one hopes it was for vocal/breathing purposes as it does prove a little distracting at times. Goree has Clay’s inflection and physical prowess down pat, not to mention a bounding, almost childlike energy.

Which leaves the standout, British actor Ben-Adir as Malcolm X. His performance is exceptional. Calming, erudite, with flashes of the righteous anger that punctuated the man’s public speeches and press conferences yet, this is a more emotionally vulnerable version seen here. Paranoid about his position as he contemplates a future without the Nation of Islam, and about being followed. He’s worried that his days are numbered as he rushes to finish his autobiography and leave behind his story in his own words. He is often behind his expensive camera taking photos of his friends, his brothers. Positioned on the outside of the group but as Clay states at one point, “You’re our director.”

In the room, they listen to music, eat ice-cream – vanilla, an allusion made by Brother Malcolm to Brown and Cooke’s love of white women – and share; discussing how the world should change, what each of them should be doing for the cause and how to ‘weaponise’ their respective attributes and push through the struggle; speaking truth to power.

This celebration of four gifted Black men does not pander to mythology or idolatrise, but instead presents reflections of the men at the height of their notoriety (note the mirrors dotted around the place) and not mere impersonation. The dialogue is punchy and resonant as they debate, argue, laugh and cry – the personification of the competing voices within the civil rights movement (and pre-cursors of the Black Power movement). It is urgent discourse – and devastatingly all too relevant today – yet filled with depth and humour.

As a piece of film, One Night in Miami doesn’t reinvent the wheel in terms of structure or language but there are a number of beautiful shots courtesy of Tami Reiker’s cinematography which linger in the mind after the credits have rolled. The musical segments give Odom Jr. more time to shine with the arrangements and atmospheric score courtesy of the immense talent of maestro Terence Blanchard. By the time Cooke’s final number – A Change is Gonna Come – comes around, one cannot help but be moved to tears.

Clearly, some room should be left on Ms. King’s mantle for a few more gold and silver trophies following this assured and stylish snapshot of a momentous meeting in time. It delivers on multiple levels, encompassing Black/American history, culture and music – pay attention you may learn something – and contains four utterly captivating performances. As somebody who missed the play’s 2016 run at The Donmar this incredible film more than makes up for it.

One Night in Miami Premieres on Amazon Prime January 15th 2021

Film Festival Review

Review: 180° Rule (Dir. Farnoosh Samadi, 2020)

LFF 2020

It is not often that you hear women in Iranian cinema discuss abortion and rarely in the first twenty minutes of a film’s opening. It is the first indication that 180° Rule is a little different and that there’s a woman at the helm. Farnoosh Samadi, over the course of 83 minutes, subtly depicts a woman’s experience in a society fighting between tradition and modernity which renders women and girls without agency, and often leads to suffering and silence.

Sara (Sahar Dolatshahi) is a school teacher, well liked and preparing for a few days leave to celebrate a family wedding when one of her students, Yasi (Sadaf Asgari) admits to being pregnant (after swallowing pills to induce miscarriage). Sara offers guidance and advice where she can before heading home to pack. However popular she is at work, home life is a somewhat different matter – visually symbolised by the boiling, overflowing milk-pan on the stove in the opening frame – her husband Hamed (Pejam Jamshidi) is aloof, unfeeling, stoic and somewhat miserable. Criticisms come thick and fast and those that don’t are loaded in accusation.

She’s a nag, she smokes too much, she has allowed the cat on the bed again, she’s a bad driver, she’s responsible for his daughter being ill (it’s a cough and a temperature…) and then he’s claiming his workload will prevent him from accompanying her and daughter Raha to the upcoming nuptials. Which means that they have to stay behind lest travel unaccompanied or in the car with a ‘strange man’ (a taxi driver). This is made all the more disappointing by just how much his child has been looking forward to being the flower girl. Weighing up her options – and the expectations of her mother, extended family and daughter – Sara makes a choice and it is a decision that will change her life irreparably and we see the ripples for the remainder of the film.

During which time Samadi intentionally disrupts and disorientates the audience. The inclusion of Yasi’s subplot later on is purposeful and in keeping with the pace of the film and its reflection of reality. Change happens so quickly and impulsive, even inexplicable, decisions don’t always have time to reverberate or be made understandable – the plain and simple fact is that people, women can suddenly start acting strangely.

In a patriarchal society – like the one depicted so astutely onscreen – moral responsibility is placed on women, they’re conditioned to follow the rules, to do as they are told and avoid transgression at all cost. If they fail they’re expected to suppress their feelings and the pressures of secrets, lies, shame and guilt can often be their undoing, sadder still is that Samadi’s screenplay is loosely based on a true story. 

180°Rule is an evocative film that won’t necessarily be embraced by all but the juxtaposition of light and dark, black and white whether figuratively or in a lighting choice, a costume, or animal in frame is striking. Its mournful score, thanks to Amir Nobakht’s sound design only adds to the haunting melodrama and subtle social commentary.

It’s a technically impressive and visually arresting drama led by an extremely convincing lead in Dolatshahi. Were it not for her and the empathy she elicits, from what becomes a largely subdued and silent performance, it is doubtful the film would work quite so well. It will be likened to the work of Asghar Farhadi, somewhat understandably during one particular scene yet however flattering it is to be compared to a master filmmaker, and for a first feature no less (following short films: The Silence (2016), Grace (2017) and The Role (2018)), this piece of work is made all the more compelling, not in spite of but because of its female lens.