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LFF 2020: Another Round review – a glass half empty | reviews, news & interviews

LFF 2020: Another Round review – a glass half empty

LFF 2020: Another Round review – a glass half empty

Mads Mikkelsen excels as a teacher seeking salvation in the bottom of a glass. Plus first looks at David Byrne’s American Utopia and A Common Crime

Is this homework? Mads Mikkelsen setting a bad example, in 'Another Round'

In 2012, two great Danes, director Thomas Vinterberg and actor Mads Mikkelsen, teamed up for the powerhouse drama The Hunt, about a teacher victimised by his community when wrongly accused of abusing a pupil.

In 2012, two great Danes, director Thomas Vinterberg and actor Mads Mikkelsen, teamed up for the powerhouse drama The Hunt, about a teacher victimised by his community when wrongly accused of abusing a pupil. For their reprise, Mikkelsen again plays a teacher and is again phenomenal; though this time the film fails to deliver on its premise. 

Four male, middle-aged school teachers and friends are stuck in a rut: Martin (Mikkelsen) is the worst, so overcome by ennui that he barely speaks to his wife and kids, and has completely lost the trust of his history students; sports master Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), music teacher Peter (Lars Ranthe) and philosophy teacher Nikolaj (Magnus Millang) are also absent in their own classes, to varying degrees

It’s Nikolaj who comes up with a plan to wake themselves up, citing a philosophiser’s cod theory that people would genuinely benefit from being a little drunk, all of the time, releasing their self-confidence and "spirit". Noting that “this entire country drinks like maniacs anyway”, our heroes decide to introduce alcohol into their working day – on the sly, of course, and in the self-deceiving guise of valuable scientific study. 

At first it kinda works, as classroom performances lighten up, improve, and lift the students. Martin even introduces inebriation as a theme in his lessons, citing Churchill among others as an example of boozily successful leadership. Who cares if the teacher slurs a few words, when a tipsy wind is blowing away the cobwebs?

However, as the enboldened boys decide to “go a bit higher”, alcoholism inevitably awaits. 

Vinterberg and co-scriptwriter Tobias Lindholm (who also penned The Hunt with him) set things up well enough, but then don’t seem to know what to do with the ethical conundrum they’ve introduced. While there is personal consequence to all this drinking (which does make ones own head swim a bit), the filmmakers sit on a very dodgy fence when dealing with the characters' behaviour in the school context. It’s not an ambivalence that feels challenging, merely befuddled. 

That said, the cast is immensely watchable, together creating a very believable group of friends. Chief amongst them, the masterfully minimalist, always authentic Mikkelsen is immeasurably moving as a man who will do almost anything to get his mojo back. David Byrne’s American Utopia ★★★★

Given that we all really need something to smile about right now, this film ought to be beamed into every home in the UK. What a tonic it is. 

In 1984, Talking Heads teamed with Jonathan Demme to make arguably the greatest ever concert movie, Stop Making Sense. Now former frontman David Byrne has collaborated with another iconic indie director, Spike Lee, this time to put on screen his American Utopia concert, which played in Broadway’s Hudson Theatre until shortly before the COVID pandemic. 

Though a very different film, once again the alchemy between musician and filmmaker is spectacularly rewarding, as Lee uses his experience and creativity to engage with a live show that is part concert/part theatre and is constantly, joyously in motion. 

The stage project was prompted by Byrne’s eponymous 2018 solo album, with songs added from his work with Talking Heads and Brian Eno, among others. On a bare stage, Byrne is joined by nine musicians (percussion heavy, as you’d expect) and two singer-dancers, all dressed in uniform grey suits, barefoot. As Byrne proudly declares, they’re “untethered”, instruments carried with them, their movement driven by the syncopation and sheer funk of the songs and elegant invention of Annie B-Parson’s choreography.

The tone of the evening is set by Byrne, now a white-haired sexagenarian but in good voice and as agile and energetic as ever. Age does lend him the surprising air of an endearingly awkward uncle. His message, expressed through the carefully chosen songs and the patter in between, combines gentle critique of the mess of contemporary American society, allied to a sweet, insistent call for inclusiveness and connection.  

The Talking Heads tracks are still the strongest, notably a scintillating “I Zimbra”, “Once in a Lifetime” (no surprise there) and “Blind”, but highlights also include a thrillingly apt “I Should Watch TV” (a collaboration with St Vincent) and Byrne’s version of the protest song by Janelle Monae “Hell You Talmbout”, listing the names of people who have died as the result of racial violence, which brings passion and urgency to proceedings. 

Though we're aware of the auditorium, Lee’s agenda is clearly one of immersion – shooting from every direction, feeding imaginatively off the stage lighting and the intricate patterns of choreography, to capture the contagious joie du vivre of the performance. As Byrne would say, “This must be the place”. 

A Common Crime ★★

Sociology professor and single mum Cecilia (Elisa Carricajo) is an extremely grounded individual – committed and accessible at work, fun-loving at home with her young son. Then one stormy night she’s confronted by what she perceives as a threat to her safety, from her housekeeper Nebe's teenage boy. It's a misjudgement, which will throw her life completely off balance. 

This drama by Argentine Francisco Márquez comes with distinct echoes of compatriot Lucrecia Martel's The Headless Woman. Both films touch on the symbiotic but complicated relationship between classes in Argentina, and the way guilt can cause psychological disarray; both imbue social critiques with an air of mystery. 

That said, the new film fails to cast the same mesmerising spell as its predecessor. 

Márquez charts Cecilia's meltdown – comprised of equal parts fear, paranoia and guilt – while maintaining two points of tension: one involving the strange things that continue inside her house, the other the inevitable confrontation with Nebe (Mecha Martínez, pictured above left with Carricajo).

His control of mood and space is excellent, employing close-up and shallow focus to replicate Cecilia’s growing alienation, while the film's outstanding sequence involves Cecilia becoming lost in the winding alleyways of Nebe’s poor neighbourhood. But he’s less successful when handling his lead: Carricajo has her moments, but too often the performance feels self-conscious and affected, particularly her movement, adding drag to an already slow-burn film. 

Who cares if the teacher slurs a few words, when a tipsy wind is blowing away the cobwebs?

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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