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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.

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Review

Review: Boy (Dir. Taika Waititi, 2015)

The year is 1984, and 11-year-old Boy (James Rolleston) welcomes us into his “interesting world” as he stands before his classmates and recounts who he is, what he likes (Michael Jackson), and who he shares his life with. There’s Nan (Mavis Paenga), cousins Miria, Kiko, Che, Hucks and Kelly, Aunty Gracey (Rachel House) who’s a tennis coach, the “mailman”, school bus driver and manager of the local shop; a pet goat named Leaf and a six-year-old brother Rocky (Te Aho Eketone-Whitu). Rocky thinks he has superpowers. Bless him, he doesn’t.

Boy’s interests include art (cue desk graffiti), social studies (getting picked on by older boys) and Michael Jackson. His other idol is his father, Alamein (Taika Waititi), a master carver, deep sea treasure diver, captain of the rugby team and holder of the record for punching people out with a single fist. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth but in Boy’s world, reality isn’t really the mainstay, he is a kid after all.

After Nan leaves to attend a funeral, he’s the man of the house and so he ensures all the younger children wash, eat and generally thrive, until Alamein Sr returns to Waihau Bay, fresh out of prison, seeking a “treasure” he buried in the field opposite the house. It gives him the perfect opportunity to reconnect with his estranged sons as long as they stop calling him Dad… it’s “weird”. Boy, initially thrilled by his father’s return, soon comes to the painful realisation that his father isn’t the hero he imagined. In complete contrast, Rocky’s reluctance to accept the man he has never known comes full circle and his doubt and suspicion turns to respect. The moment all three boys reach the point of transformation is a deeply moving and beautiful thing, and harks back to that opening quote perfectly – “You could be happy here… we could grow up together” (E.T., 1982). 

Boy is a thematically rich film and one which comments upon rurality, poverty, childhood, adulthood and grief while using magical realism, animation, mythology and a free-spirited style which also incorporates intertextuality and 80s popular culture to bring Waititi’s approach to identity and masculinity to the screen. That very specific form and unique Aotearoa voice has been so prevalent since those couple of Taika-written and directed episodes of Flight of the Conchords.

While including visuals of the sublime landscape, hostile terrain and open roads that have long been associated with New Zealand cinema, Waititi also gives us a Māori film rich in culture and beautiful hues of colour via a nostalgic trip to the eighties. The absentee father within a Māori family is just one of the thematic links Boy has to Once Were Warriors (1994) and Whale Rider (2002), however, here the comedy and pathos, drama and fantasy is – as one has come to expect following Eagle vs. Shark (2007), What We Do in the Shadows (2014) and Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016) – charmingly measured.

Rolleston is wonderful in the titular role, however, one can’t help but fall in love with the largely mute and thoughtful, cape-wearing Rocky as both boys shine in this endearing and magical coming-of-age drama. Waititi is equally adorable as the misunderstood big boy of the trio, Alamein, a man who has yet to truly face his responsibilities or fully embrace adulthood but whose little men will help him pull his socks up. Boy is a big-hearted film – possibly even Waititi’s finest – poignant, funny, an effortless joy. Oh, and that Haka hybrid is genius.

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Review

Review: Rust and Bone (Dir. Jacques Audiard, 2012)

It is becoming increasingly difficult to approach a Jacques Audiard film without a high level of expectation, specifically, after the commercial success of his last cinematic effort, A Prophet (2009). One aspect which can be attributed to Audiard is that he knows men, or at least has the ability to write and cast them particularly well. His films have boasted memorable male protagonists played, with aplomb, by the likes of Mathieu Kassovitz (A Self Made Hero), Vincent Cassel (Read My Lips), Romain Duris (The Beat That My Heart Skipped) and of course A Prophet‘s Tahar Rahim. Rust and Bone, similarly, can also offer a critique in performative masculinity with stellar work by Matthias Schoenaerts (Bullhead). The difference here is that this film also glorifies the acting prowess of Marion Cotillard, thankfully back to La Vie en Rose (2007) and Little White Lies (2010) quality after a few, dubious, sub-standard English-speaking roles.

Ali (Schoenaerts) and his five-year old son Sam (Armand Verdure) drift from place to place, stealing to survive, until they leave Belgium and move to Antibes to live with his sister Anna (Corinne Masiero) and her husband Foued (Mourad Frarema). Ali begins work as a nightclub bouncer when he meets Stephanie (Cotillard) a discontent Orca trainer whose life leaves her cold. The circumstances of their chance meeting find her in the unlikely position of damsel-in-distress with Ali jeopardising his job in order to help her, however, devastating destiny reunites their respective damaged souls when Stephanie suffers a horrific accident and friendship flourishes.

This film falls into the melodramatic genre; a love story between two dislikeable, yet at times relatable, characters whose life adversity throws them together to forge remnants of a relationship. Audiard communicates, beautifully, the sheer messiness of love and delivers a dramatic narrative which remains (for the most part) unsentimental but completely empathetic. After the accident, Cotillard’s Stephanie faces life with emotional determination  and independent dignity wherever she can but it is Ali who reawakens her sexuality and desire for life. It is through these raw acts of passion that the viewer  sees Ali’s softer side.

While Cotillard may be showered with acting plaudits following the film’s cinematic release, it is the male protagonist who is the most interesting to read. Ali is animalistic in his gait; father and lover are not roles that fit comfortably and when he loses his temper with Sam it is hard to empathise or identify. He is a fighter, and it is through the bare-knuckle boxing sequences that the viewer not only sees the man in his “natural” state but starts to gain an insight into Stephanie’s lust. There is, thankfully, more to him than violent outbursts, there has to be to warrant anybody loving him. It is his clumsiness, pragmatism and simplistic way of viewing the world which make him almost childlike and therefore more relatable; he is literally the tower of strength, when present, of the picture, carrying Sam and Stephanie on his shoulders.

There is a cool detachment to Rust and Bone which is, ultimately, why it is so successful as a piece of drama. Cotillard and Schoenaerts are outstanding in their respective roles and their magnetism both attracts and repels them as Stephanie and Ali. That said, there is one small criticism in relation to the end sequence, following the fade. It felt excessively sentimental, predictably unwarranted and resolutely manipulative. The emotional intensity which has the viewer captivated from the start ceases rather suddenly and, somewhat, spoils what had been leading up to be a truly accomplished piece of cinema.