ANOTHER ROUND (2021, Denmark)

April 24, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. Oscar nominated for Best Foreign Language Film (Denmark), its director, Thomas Vinterberg was also nominated for Best Director. Mr. Vinterberg also directed the excellent 2012 film, THE HUNT, and this time out, he collaborates yet again with his co-writer and lead actor from that film: Tobias Lindholm and Mads Mikkelsen, respectively.

Mikkelsen (already one of the few must-watch actors) stars as Martin, a married man, father of two, and history teacher. His long-time friends include Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), a PE coach; Nikolaj (Magnus Millang) a Psychology instructor; and Peter (Lars Ranthe), the music teacher. The buddies are chatting over dinner as they celebrate Nikolaj’s 40th birthday, and they come to realize they are each floating through life – in a mid-life crisis of sorts, neither happy nor sad. It’s at this point where Norwegian Psychiatrist Finn Skarderud’s hypothesis is discussed. They agree to test Skarderud’s theory by maintaining a .05% Blood Alcohol Content (BAC), even while teaching.

Almost immediately, the men each feel mentally sharper, more engaged, and awakened to their lives. Martin re-connects with his wife, Anika (Maria Bonnevie), and becomes a history teacher that inspires students … quite a change from the complaints he had been receiving. The accomplishments of Hemingway and Churchill are discussed, as if alcoholics need role models. And then, to push a good thing even farther, the men decide if .05% works, why not take it to .10%? Well that’s what the men do, and of course, the results aren’t so great – ranging from upsetting to tragic.

Is it possible to re-discover a life that’s being wasted in self-pity or a state of numbness? Can alcohol jolt one back to life after the loss of youth and the reality of adult responsibility? Mid-life crisis has been addressed in many films, and alcohol is often part of the story … think SIDEWAYS (2004). We learn here that the Danish culture involves heavy drinking, and in Denmark, there is an extraordinarily high rate of teenage drinking.

The film is well acted, and Mikkelsen is terrific. Vinterberg dedicated the film to his daughter Ida, who was scheduled to appear in the film before dying in a car crash. He strategically includes Kierkegaard’s quote about life being lived forwards, but only understood backwards, and that truly is the crux of what the men are experiencing. The final scene is extraordinary and unexpected, as Mikkelsen wows with an interpretative and energetic dance to “What a Life” by Scarlet Pleasure. What a life, indeed. And perhaps there is hope after all.

Available on HULU

WATCH THE TRAILER


FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD (2015)

May 8, 2015

far from Greetings again from the darkness. If you have read Thomas Hardy’s 1874 novel or seen director John Schlesinger’s 1967 (and far more energetic) screen adaption starring Julie Christie, or even if you are a High School Literature student with the novel on your summer reading list, you will probably be interested in this more modern-day thinking approach from director Thomas Vinterberg (The Hunt). It’s more modern not in look, but rather in the feminist perspective of Bathsheba Everdene (one of my favorite literary character names).

Carey Mulligan plays Ms. Everdene, and she is exceedingly independent and ambitious for the time period, while simultaneously being attractive in a more timeless manner. This rare combination results in three quite different suitors. She first meets sheep farmer Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts, Rust and Bone), who is smitten with her spunk, and he proposes by offering her way out of poverty. She declines and the next time they cross paths, the tables have turned as she has inherited a farm and he has lost everything due to an untrained sheep dog. Next up is a proposal from a socially awkward, but highly successful neighborhood farmer. Michael Sheen plays William Boldwood, who is clueless in his courting skills, but understands that combining their farms would be a make-sense partnership. The third gent is Sergeant Francis Troy (Tom Sturridge), a master of seduction by sword. She is sucked in by Troy’s element of danger, unaware of his recent wedding gone awry to local gal Fanny Robbin (Juno Temple).

As with most literary classics … and in fact, most books … the screen adaptation loses the detail and character development that make the book version so enjoyable. Still, we understand the essence of the main characters, and the actors each bring their own flavor to these roles. The story has always been first and foremost a study in persistence, and now director Vinterberg and Mulligan explore the modern day challenges faced by women in selecting a mate: slow and steady, financially set, or exciting and on edge. In simpler language, should she follow her head, wallet or heart?

watch the trailer:

 

 


THE HUNT (Jagten, Denmark, 2012)

September 3, 2013

hunt1 Greetings again from the darkness. It’s the worst nightmare for every Parent, Teacher and Child. Sexual Abuse of a child is incomprehensible … it’s unthinkable, yet all too common. So what happens when a man is falsely accused of such inappropriate action? Well if the accusation comes from the most innocent of faces – a 5 year old girl – the falsely accused man stand no chance … regardless of what the letter of the law states.

Such is the story of Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen, TV’s “Hannibal“), a lonely, small town kindergarten teacher who has gone through a rough divorce and is losing his fight for visitation rights to his teenage son. We witness Lucas quietly going about his life … he is loved by the students and surrounded by life long hunting buddies and friends. Soon enough, things start to look up for Lucas. An attractive teacher expresses her interest in him and his son hunt2convinces the mother that he should live with his dad.

The set-up of the characters and the powerfully simmering performance of Mikkelsen elevate this somewhat predictable story to the brink of excruciating discomfort for the viewer. In the blink of a childhood moment of imaginative confusion of emotional pain, an innocent man’s life is forever altered. Klara (Annika Wedderkopp) is the daughter of Lucas’ best friend Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen). A very protective teacher unwittingly leads Klara down the path that initiates a landslide of emotion that simply cannot be stopped. Of course, the teachers and parents and community believe the cute little girl … the innocence of kids cannot be doubted. As the defensive instincts of parents kick in, we see the dangerous side of influence and suddenly numerous kids have piled on and become part of Klara’s story.

hunt3 Director Thomas Vinterberg brilliantly keeps us looking through the eyes of Lucas. We know he is innocent and we beg him to scream it! Instead, he expects everyone to just know he does not have this in him at all. His faith in himself never waivers despite our discomfort and anger. He does finally reach a boiling point after a heart-breaking scene in the local market, but even that moment does not feel like a victory.  The course of his life has been altered.

While “The Scarlet Letter” gave us an indication of exile by community, this story shows us just how quickly human nature has us jumping to conclusions and assuming the worst. Persecution and judgment by the mob is one of the most dangerous developments of society. Lucas reminds us that innocence and faith may not always be enough and sometimes life just isn’t fair.

**NOTE: this is extremely serious subject matter handled in a very straightforward manner by a talented director and extraordinary cast.  There are a few touches of dark humor, but mostly this is just an intense, difficult to watch film.

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ieLIOBkMgAQ