Categories
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.

Categories
Review

Review: Men and Chicken (Dir. Anders Thomas Jensen, 2015)

Although renowned for the nordic noir insurgence of recent years – it is fair to say that – not only are the Danes prolific filmmakers and masters of tension but they appear to have a dark, very specific sense of humour and especially in the case of writer/director Anders Thomas Jensen.

Jensen has, over the last sixteen years or so, created a wonderfully weird little world with Flickering Lights (2000), The Green Butchers (2003) and, Adam’s Apples (2010). Men & Chicken fits perfectly into this twisted little village of well, not to put too finer point on it, weirdos. These are incredibly simple stories told at the periphery of the societal norm and are deliciously transgressive with the filmmaker gathering a supreme ensemble fronted by Mads Mikkelsen, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, and Nicolas Bro who feature in all four features. These fine actors, usually known for their dramatic roles clearly relish the opportunity to play, and play they do.

The film opens fairy tale-like with two small boys walking hand-in-hand down a brightly lit corridor, Frans Bak and Jeppe Kaas’ score is wonderfully dreamlike, melodic ominous strings give way to piano and woodwind. The voice-over narration illicits a sense of whimsy which is almost immediately undermined as Gabriel (David Dencik) visits his dying father. His brother Elias (Mikkelsen) is at a therapy session/date at which he reveals aspects of his rapey subconscious, he’s overbearing, has possible incestuous leanings and, what we will soon discover, a chronic masturbatory “issue”. Physically, the only indication that the two are brothers is a harelip, although, only a scar in Gabriel’s case, and once their father passes they discover a VHS taped confessional which serves to reveal the truth behind their real parentage.

Somewhat reluctantly, they set off on a road-trip in the hope of meeting their real paterfamilias Dr. Evelio Thanatos, a Danish/Italian medical researcher whose fancy-sounding name literally translates into “he who gives life” and “death instinct” (stopping along the way for Elias to relieve himself). Their journey takes them to the Island of Ork – population 38 – where they find more brothers living in a crumbling sanatorium amid peeling paint. Francis (Søren Malling), Joseph (Bro) and Gregor (Lie Kaas) share their home with a variety of animals, have an indoor badminton court, and a room full of cheese, they all possess the distinctive harelip, beak-like noses, and unfortunate hair/facial tics and like Elias, large prominent teeth. One doesn’t need to imagine too hard the smells permeating from the dilapidation and general uncleanliness, especially amid the palette of nude, taupe, brown and orange, or eggshell-manure chic if you will.

Understandably, Men & Chicken won’t be to everybody’s taste. It is The League of Gentlemen by way of The Three Stooges, a slapstick social satire combining hilarious horror with pitch black humour, and while there is something quite grotesque and melancholic about the whole thing, it’s actually fairly moving as the notion of what constitutes as family is questioned and civilisation, religion, philosophy and social etiquette is introduced to the three hovel-dwelling brothers.

By the time the family’s full parental history is revealed, the pay-off is well worth the wait. Ridiculous yes, but a testament to the acting prowess and writing to deliver something so ludicrous. Yet, it is bizarrely emotive, not one family fits all and for the Thanatos boys, it comes in many (many) forms surrounded by lots of poultry and cheese.

Categories
Film Festival Review

Review: The Hunt (Dir. Thomas Vinterberg, 2012)

LFF 2012

“Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength” (Psalm 8:2). Never has a re-contextualised proverb so inadvertently and succinctly condensed a film’s subject matter than this one. The Hunt opens with a male bonding session, big, burly men drinking, removing their clothes and throwing themselves into a freezing cold stream in the middle of Danish winter for the purposes of a bet. Doing what “men” purportedly do. The one who has to rescue his pal when he develops cramp is somewhat different to the rest of the hunting party; slight and bespectacled, he jumps in, sensibly, fully clothed – his physicality reminiscent of Hoffman’s David in Straw Dogs (1971, dir. Sam Peckinpah).

Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) is an amiable divorced father of one, trying to gain custody of his teenage son Marcus (Lasse Fogelstrøm); working in the local kindergarten after the closure of the secondary school in which he was previously employed. There are hints from some that believe in the unsuitability of a man working in a nursery, especially given his minority as the only male employee, but his naturalness with the children soon dismisses these archaic views. Lucas has friends, this is evident from the film’s commencement, close friendships made in childhood but most of these men have wives and children present and Lucas tends to cut a lonely figure in comparison. His best friend Theo (Vinterberg alum, Thomas Bo Larsen) has two children, one of whom is Klara (lucidly played by Annika Wedderkopp) an eccentric child with a vivid imagination who often wanders the streets alone because her parents fail to notice her missing or she is so deeply focussed on avoiding the cracks in the pavement. After her father’s friend shows her a little attention, she develops a crush and when Lucas understandably and gently rejects her, after she kisses him on the mouth, he pays a hefty price. Klara’s blatant accusation, after all “Children do not lie. At least not about things like this”, causes a devastating fall out and the once close-knit community splinters into shards of hysteria, amid recriminations and reproach, with the teacher becoming the victim of a persecutory witch-hunt.

Mikkelsen (A Royal Affair; Valhalla Rising) is outstanding – whether playing maniacal villains, silent assassins, derisive lovers or sensitive every-men – he is consistently exceptional. Here, he delivers a Cannes-award winning performance as mild-mannered educator Lucas acted with real sensitivity, precision and humanity. There is a dignity and hushed calculation to the way in which, as the character, he handles the damaging aspersions. However, when the events do threaten to break the exterior, specifically in the supermarket sequence and later during Midnight Mass his actions devastate further. The deftly worked script co-written by Vinterberg and Tobias Lindholm is weighted in realism, for the most part, until taking a symbolic swerve at the dénouement and all without a hint of emotional manipulation or overt sentimentality often associated with this type of story. That said, this is not a comfortable watch and whilst gripping, powerful and thought-provoking The Hunt is unsettling and gut-wrenching; a cinematic sledgehammer of a realisation as to just how injurious and distressing an untruth, however small, can truly be.