“Another Round” and Other Good Films from a Year of Movies Without Cinemas

“Druk” (Another Round), 2020 | Zentropa Entertainments, Film i Väst

 
 

”Oh, a film is never the same on a small screen
as it was when you lived it in a theater.”

Merie Weismiller Wallace

 
 
Druk (Another Round)

Four male friends, all high school teachers, are embarking on exploring the obscure scientific theory that a steady blood alcohol level can enhance human performance. But there is a profound character study that hides behind this equally appalling and comedic premise. Martin, played by Mads Mikkelsen, is the history teacher, one of the four friends (all actors so good, so natural) and the one mostly stricken by a mid-life crisis. He appears as someone often lost within himself, simply not present in his own life anymore, and who, in a surprising emotional moment, while celebrating one of his friend’s 40th anniversary, finally admits he doesn’t know how he has ended up like that. Thomas Vinterberg’s film does not judge its characters, nor justifies their actions, not portrays them as interested in reclaiming lost youth. It humanely, openly, earnestly portrays them as they are in this point in their lives’ journey, showing resilience in times of hardship, comedic relief in moments of darkness. A beautiful life-affirming dark comedy. And one more thing: you realise how good this film is just by thinking what an American remake would look like. Something that would come very close to Ruben Östlund‘s Force Majeure and the American remake Downhill – the American version will probably be one more obviously comedic, with appeal to the larger public, painfully losing the subtlety of an incisive portrayal of the modern human condition. Not only is Another Round one of the best films of the year, but it has the best ending, too. The film only gets better with that bittersweet closing.

Mangrove

Steve McQueen’s first release from his Small Axe series focuses on a black people-owned restaurant in London in the 1960s which becomes the target of police harassment. It resulted in a historic court battle and a mass movement. But it’s not the socially relevant theme that impresses the most, but the vivid storytelling (watching it you feel you are right there in the action), the cultural background of the black community that powerfully and beautifully comes to light (through colour, music, texture), the intensity of the actors’ performances.

Lovers Rock

Mangrove and Lovers Rock are both among my favourite films of the year. But what I appreciated about Lovers Rock even more is that this is the kind of film that makes you appreciate the medium of film more, rather than the story or the content. These days, cinema seems to lack experimenting with elements that are only specific to film, like McQueen does here. People tend to get caught up in telling a good story. From film I want more visually, too. Lovers Rock is centered on a house party in 1970s London, people setting up the place, getting ready, kindling relationships. The black community is again at the forefront, just as in Mangrove (and all Mcqueen’s Small Axe films), but the framing of the story and style of filming are different here. Dance and music and the unique, innermost, electrifying emotions that result from that can only be experienced when lived, and Steve McQueen’s intimate filming approach get you very close to that.

The Nest

In Sean Durkin’s The Nest, Jude Law is Rory, an investment banker who moves back to his native England from New York with his American wife, Allison (Carrie Coon), and their two children. He is a good salesman, even great at using his looks and charm to sell things, but unfortunately what he is trying to sell the most is a fantasy. The family is starting to crumble in the chilly and majestic English countryside. The dark atmosphere creeping in makes you pay attention to things beneath the surface. That surface is something that Rory cares about. Greed is gradually creeping in, too. Allison comes from a hardscrabble background and although she had already been rather suspicious of their good suburban life, and despite of her having something of Rory’s materialistic tendencies, her discomfort grows deeper with their move into a dramatic English mansion – I particularly liked how her costumes have a defining role in getting us on this journey with her. What ensues is a wrenching psychological and haunting marital drama that is as cinematically powerful and beautifully tailored as it is bitingly poignant for these times. What remains if people let go of their illusions, or delusions?

The Roads Not Taken

Sally Potter’s film follows 24 hours in the life of father and daughter Leo (Javier Bardem) and Molly (Elle Fanning) around New York City as she is learning to cope with his deteriorating mental state caused by dementia. It is a very humane film that deals with this subject very realistically, and I tremendously loved the depiction of their father-daughter relationship. In the face of illness, people so often seem to forget the way people used to be and sentiments that should not be there, like pity and desperation and ignorance, take over. This film teaches us how important it is not to dehumanize the ones we love when life changes them, how important it is to be there for them and act with the same care, love, humour as we always have. Javier delivers a wonderfully contained performance (paired with a finely attuned performance from Elle Fanning) as his consciousness flows in and out of two parallel lives, an emotional exploration of the choices he has made in life.
 

“Bruce Springsteen’s Letter to You”, 2020

 

A Life on Our Planet

David Attenborough’s documentaries should be viewed in schools. Period. There are few people who can get everyone’s attention on the matter of how our planet has deteriorated, a man-made disaster, the way David Attenborough does.

Vilas: Serás lo que debas ser o no serás nada (Guillermo Vilas: Settling the Score)

The Argentinian journalist Eduardo Puppo sets out to prove, with the help of the Romanian mathematician Marian Ciulpan, who re-made all the world men’s tennis rankings between 1973 and 1978, that Guillermo Vilas, one of the best tennis players in history, was wrongly denied the No.1 world raking in the 1970s. It is a remarkable documentary: because of the remarkable work of a journalist who made Vilas’ fight his own without even telling Vilas only after years of having worked on it on his own; because it succeeds in completing the image of a remarkable tennis player. There is such humbleness in these two people and such dedication to their respective works and such friendship and such humanity. It’s rewarding and grounding.

Bruce Springsteen’s Letter to You

I haven’t yet watched a music documentary I didn’t like (but yet again, I do pick them well, and I have already been waiting for a year for Todd Haynes’ The Velvet Underground – the film poster is a great preview). And when it comes to Bruce Springsteen, well, I don’t expect anything less. His documentary film, Letter to You, accompanies his new album by the same name that has reunited Bruce with The E Street Band for the first time since 2014 (and comes just one year after he released his single album Western Stars). The film, following the recording of the album in Springsteen’s home studio in his native, snow-covered New Jersey, is simple and honest, it has great music, obviously, a melancholic side, hope, and the passion and desire to give it all to music and just keep going. It just touches all the right notes for the end of the year.
 
 

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