Lina Lamont

"What do you think I am, dumb or something?"

Archive for the tag “Mads Mikkelsen”

The Hunt

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 9th June 2013

Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale, A Royal Affair) deservedly won the Best Actor prize at Cannes last year for his flawless performance as Lucas, a kindergarten teacher accused by his best friend’s young daughter of sexual abuse.

What makes the story so interesting (among other adjectives we’ll get to in a moment) is that it rejects the “Did he, didn’t he” narrative and clearly shows us from the outset that Lucas is an honourable man who becomes the victim in a situation where men are usually the perpetrators. The fact that Mikkelsen portrays him credibly as an everyman (or rather, any man) makes the tale all the more devastating.

Lucas is divorced, battling for more time with his son, but otherwise happy and well-liked by friends, colleagues and the children in his care. The film cheerily opens with typical Scandinavian (male) full-frontal nudity as the chaps take an icy plunge; later we see them drinking together, Lucas very much one of their treasured gang. It sets the scene painfully for everything that he has to lose when, suddenly, he is sideswiped, and slowly broken down, by an accusation that turns his community and closest friends against him.

Writer/director Thomas Vinterberg is known for his co-founding of the Danish film ethos known as Dogme95, with that slave to controversy, Lars von Trier. While The Hunt is more mainstream in style (and not a Dogme film), a commitment to realism is nonetheless impeccably rendered here in every single performance, from the tentative investigations of the head teacher to the dilemma felt by the child’s parents (with a typically star performance from Danish filmstar Thomas Bo Larsen).

Young Klara (Annika Wedderkopp in her film debut) is a particular revelation in such a crucial role – a real casting coup in finding such extraordinary poise in one so young. To maintain the viewer’s outrage at the tale, it is important that Klara doesn’t come off as a manipulative villain. Here she is merely an infatuated kid who makes a childish error and then gets caught up in a nightmare from which she herself cannot wake.

Despite the proficiency of cast and crew, one thing that may not ring true with all viewers is quite how a supposedly progressive society like Denmark would allow a child psychologist to ask leading questions of a child and wind up disregarding the accused adult. But if you can suspend your disbelief in that area, you will lose yourself in everything else that is masterful about this film.

The film is effortlessly beautiful in photography and subtle soundtrack, shot with an intimacy that denies any suggestion of “acting”.

While hugely compelling and affecting, it is also very distressing to witness Lucas’ downfall – one scene in particular will make your blood boil. The film’s spiral of awfulness rapidly depicts the worst destruction of a life you can imagine for anyone, brilliantly realised by all the players.

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Cannes films at the NZFF (Sunday Star Times review)

This article first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 1st July 2012

Despite torrential downpours peppered with deceitful sunny spells, there has been great excitement since the New Zealand International Film Festival programme was announced this week. Film-buffs can be found brandishing highlighter pens and screening guides in cafés all over town, and are counting down until our respite from dark, cold winter commences on 19th July.  

We can thank the excellent Festival programming team for bringing home no fewer than 15 films from Cannes less than a month after the closing ceremony.  Of these, eight won prizes.  All have something that will entertain, provoke or thrill a keen Kiwi audience.

Top honours at Canneswent to Michael Haneke’s Amour.  It played early in the fortnight, and critics were prematurely (though correctly) hailing it as the likely Palme d’Or winner even as they left the cinema.  Kinder than his recent work, but no less challenging, Amour follows the deterioration of an elderly woman whose devoted husband lives alongside and through her ill-health.  This sounds grim, and is no doubt an experience that will resonate uncomfortably with many viewers.  But Haneke seems to have no agenda or desire to upset us, beyond drawing us into a perfectly pitched exploration of love and loss.  Though unsurprising when it won, I didn’t meet a single critic who thought it undeserved. 

Mild dissent, however, when second place went to Matteo Garrone’s Reality.  There were grumblings that Jury president, Nanni Moretti, had unfairly favoured a compatriot, but I must disagree.  Garrone has said he wanted to try his hand at something lighter following the violent Gomorrah, and indeed Reality starts off with a great deal of whimsy and subtly-played humour. It concerns a family man from Naples whose children convince him to try out for Big Brother (Grande Fratello) and who becomes obsessed with the prospect of admission into the house and, by extension, a life of fame and fortune. The result is an incredibly clever fairytale, stylistically gorgeous yet documentary-like in its naturalism, and the lead performances are so real you feel you are ensconced in true Neopolitan life. But clearly Garrone cannot help himself in terms of having it descend into a tale of desperation that leaves you feeling sombre.  Fascinating, too, is the film’s backstory: lead actor Aniello Arena is currently serving a 19-year prison term, and was let out during the day to shoot his debut film, back to his cell each evening.  The irony of an imprisoned person playing someone who aches to be admitted into the captivity of the Grande Fratello house cannot be ignored.

One impressive film, while not in the main competition, displayed such restraint and power that it would have been worthy.  Our Children (the French title more appropriately translating to something like Losing Reason) sees a superb Tahar Rahim and Best Actress winner Emilie Dequenne as a young couple, madly in love, who marry and start a family.  Living under the wing/thumb of the fatherly Niels Arestrup (who played opposite Rahim in A Prophet), their existence becomes suffocating, leading to a tragedy of unthinkable proportion.  Much is made of its being based on a true story, but what makes the film a compelling and breathtaking watch is Dequenne’s brilliant rendition of a mother gradually losing her grasp, and the subtle ambiguity of the men’s performances.  This realistic, unhysterical yet utterly devastating film was in my Cannes Top Three.

It wasn’t all darkness in the South of France, however.  Walter Salles’ adaptation of On the Road showcases Sam Riley (brilliant in Control), Garrett Hedlund (better in this than in Tron) and Kristen Stewart (Twilight.  She still pouts a lot).  Perhaps it’s the nature of the roadtrip source novel, but while this starts with great promise – plunging us into the young Beats’ world of smokin’, boozin’, shaggin’ and druggin’, with the odd burst of poetic writing – once you’ve seen their shenanigans several times, you hanker for your pyjamas and a quiet night in.  It’s the energetic performances that make this engaging, sometimes delightful viewing.  Hedlund sports an intense stare and has charisma to burn, while supporting actor Tom Sturridge makes an impressive debut as Carlo Marx.

For The Hunt, Mads Mikkelsen won the Best Actor prize as a kindergarten assistant who is falsely accused by a friend’s child.  This delicate subject is handled in an interesting way, upending our assumptions of how a closeknit community might respond, but delivering a film replete with superb acting and realistic dialogue.  This thriller had me seething with outrage, still grappling with it the following day.  Considerably slower is the Russian “war film” In the Fog.  Eschewing battle scenes and melodrama, it focuses instead on the relationship between three resistance fighters whose distrust of one another creates an allegory on moral decision-making.  Beautifully photographed and in no hurry whatsoever, the film is composed of long, well-choreographed scenes, designed by the director to give the viewer pause for thought.

Short, and perfectly formed, I felt a patriotic frisson as the New Zealand Film Commission logo swam across the screen before Zia Mandviwalla’s nominated short, Night Shift.New Zealand’s only film in competition this year, it is a true gem, subtle and devastating, and unofficially short-listed by the jury in their deliberations. 

And finally, if you have any interest at all in Kubrick’s seminal work The Shining, then conspiracy-documentary Room 237 is a must-see.  Five interviewees, who would reject the term “fan” but have no leg to stand on against “obsessive”, put forward their obscure but strangely compelling arguments for what the director “really meant”.  Is it a diatribe against the plight of the Native American Indian?  Proof that the moon landings were staged?  You’ll never watch The Shining the same way again.

The jury is back – Cannes awards its winners

As I write, the keen members of the international press (ie. those who didn’t go home on Saturday morning, but stuck around until tonight’s Closing Ceremony and prize-giving) are writing madly, trying to beat one another via Twitter and live blogs in announcing the winners of the 65th Festival de Cannes.

I’m aware that for readers at home, it’s all a bit academic at the moment.  But odds are we will get to see the Palme D’Or winner, if not in this year’s film festival (though I expect so) then as soon as it is available for a general release.  So you can look forward to Michael Haneke’s Amour, a film I am relieved to say I saw this afternoon, which is typically eleventh hour of me.  Thankfully, the Festival screens all the main films In Competition on the final Sunday, so you can catch the one(s) you slept through after a late night on the tiles (I didn’t have any such evenings, but I can’t remember why I missed Amour earlier in the week).  As often happens with these awards, however, it’s neither thrilling nor surprising.  The critics here have been united in their praise of Haneke’s latest since the Cannes-winning The White Ribbon of a few years ago.  A friend of mine was adamant that The Hunt could or should win, though I don’t agree, but I was delighted to see Mads Mikkelsen ascend the stairs, his hair seemingly damp and unkempt from the thunderstorms we’ve been hit by this afternoon, to modestly dedicate 82% of this award to the director, Thomas Vinterberg.  Two actresses won Best Actress, playing against one another in Cristian Mungiu’s Beyond the Hills (the one I didn’t want to see because I thought it would be depressing, and which I am still happy to believe is brilliant without needing to prove it to myself.  Since I came here for fun and at my own expense, I’m allowed to do that).  I did, however, see Matteo Garrone’s Reality and he won the equivalent of 2nd prize, so that’s awesome.  More about the ins and outs of that very clever and topical film nearer the time of its NZ release!

So, that was today. I am about to head off for a last hurrah dinner with the Torontans who took me under their wings, then tomorrow I catch four trains into Italy and settle in Lucca for a few nights and absolutely no movies (not even television – notwithstanding Italian TV is a bit rubbish). Buongiorno i miei amici prosecco e pasta!

(PS – I will use my day of train-ing to write up Cosmopolis, the Short Film selection that our Zia Mandviwalla was nominated in, and the late Claude Miller’s adaptation of Therese Desqueyroux.)

In a Better World

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 20th February 2011.

Danish director Susanne Bier’s engaging depiction of family drama falls into the school of “seemingly effortless filmmaking”.  As evidenced in Brothers and After the Wedding (the latter showcasing Mads Mikkelsen’s dramatic talent without blood-weeping eye), she excels at casting watchable, accessible actors in multi-dimensional roles, and having them face challenges the audience can identify with.

Bier’s latest film (up for Best Foreign Film Oscar) once again involves families wracked by personal tragedy and forced to grapple with moral dilemmas.  In a Better World pits a well-meaning doctor who is risking his marriage in order to save lives in Africa, against petty (and not-so-petty) bullying to which he would rather turn the other cheek.  His gracious attitude is however complicated by the fact his son Elias is being bullied, and Elias’ new best friend Christian, battling his own demons, is more the avenging type.

Boys may well be boys, but it is the emotionally damaged ones our hearts go out to, as we watch in horror the particular game they have afoot.  In a Better World possibly refers to the ideal of a life where children and adults alike are not bound to learn harsh lessons and suffer emotional pain. But it also unwittingly evokes a world where this superior class of film-making is simply the standard.

The better Coco

Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky

Have we already talked about the previous Coco film? with Audrey “Amelie” Tautou, who is of course delectable in everything she does.  And to be fair she did a pretty good job in that biopic of Chanel’s early days (Coco Avant Chanel).  This latest film effectively starts where the other left off, which is ideal for avoiding any potentially unfavourable comparisons or box-office trouncings (à la Capote and Infamous – although they were both excellent films – though sadly the same cannot be said perhaps for the ill-fated Valmont vs Dangerous Liaisons dance-off…)

Anyway.  This is the true account of a passionate affair between Chanel, by then an independent, successful career woman grieving the loss of her long-time lover, and the taciturn Russian composer Igor Stravinsky who was gradually finding acclaim in Paris.  Set in the 1920s and ’30s, it’s an exquisite piece in aesthetic terms with its swooping, long-held tracking shots, the sumptuous scoring (much of it, naturally, Stravinsky’s own music which I appreciated much more in the film than I ever have in real life), and needless to say the costuming and historically accurate art deco styling is faultless.  You also get the particular pleasure of watching classics of 20th century fashion iconography come into being, for example the birth of the Chanel No. 5 parfum.

Mads Mikkelsen, the wonderful Danish actor from After the Wedding and Casino Royale, appears to be pretty proficient in Russian and French, though playing an intense, brooding character relieved him from having to “perform” much (though his piano playing is convincing enough).  However, this new Coco, French actress Anna Mouglalis, is in my opinion a more convincing Chanel than Tautou – she wears the proud, fierce eyebrows naturalistically rather than as a prop, and tempers the designer’s haughty froideur with just the right degree of warmth, so that you believe the intensity of her passion for the married composer, and can almost forgive her audacity at seducing him under the same roof as his sick wife.  By comparison (inevitable I’m afraid), Tautou’s Coco was too mignonne, all chic costumes and whimsy, whereas Mouglalis strides the fine line between tough-as-nails and eminently desirable.

The romantic build-up is well played, perhaps because so little is said and so much left to looks and atmosphere.  The pay-off (er, sex scenes) are therefore genuinely erotic.  Despite at times battling with the “but what about his nice wife??” issue, I still managed to lose myself in their burgeoning love affair without condemning it.  And, to this end, Katarina Stravinsky (played with subtlety and great dignity by Russian actress Yelena Morozova) provides the necessary layers both to the story and the characterisation of all three protagonists.  Stravinsky’s obsession with Coco is balanced by his love and need for his wife, and because Katarina is such a sympathetic (yet crucially not pathetic) persona, we too might feel torn were we in his shoes.

Various reviews have blandly described this film as sumptuous but lacking in depth, but I found it to be sufficiently affecting as well as superficially stimulating.

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