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13th Panorama of European Film: Breaking bad

Al-Ahram Weekly reviews some of the panorama's highlights in its unusual 13th round

Soha Hesham , Monday 12 Apr 2021
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Originally set to open in November, the 13th Panorama of European Film finally kicked off on 1 April after a long delay due to the pandemic.

For the benefit of cinephiles it opened just before the holy month of Ramadan, observing the necessary precautionary measures.

This year Zawya is screening 39 films including a handful of documentaries like Truffle Hunters, directed by Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw, and Notes from the Underworld, directed by Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel, and Lobster Soup, directed by Pepe Andreu and Rafael Molés, as well as the Norwegian film Self Portrait, directed by Katja Høgset, Margreth Olin and Espen Wallin. There is also one biographical animation, Josep, a French-Spanish production directed by the award-winning French cartoonist and editorial journalist Aurélien Froment (Aurel).

One remarkable French film is La belle époque, directed by Nicolas Bedos. With the title evoking the time between the end of the Franco-Prussian War (1871) and the start of World War I (1914), it opens with a brilliant, gripping scene that takes the viewer to the 19th century, a setting that eventually turns out to be a movie set. Returning to recent times, we see Victor (Daniel Auteuil) is a depressed caricaturist and children’s book illustrator in his 60s married to Marianne (Fanny Ardant), a frenzied psychotherapist fed up with Victor’s depression and unemployment and having an affair with François (Denis Podalydès), the newspaper editor who fired Victor.

Victor and Marianne are discontented with their stagnant marriage, filled with arguing and criticism, till one night Marianne abruptly decides to throw Victor’s belongings out of the house in the middle of the night.

Luckily for Victor, he is recruited by Antoine (Guillaume Canet), who provides  a service for wealthy clients to have a team recreate and reenact a previous time for them to live in: spending a night with Marie Antoinette or drinking in a bar with Ernest Hemingway, a kind of high-end reality TV (recalling Westworld but with a French touch and far less violence) orchestrated by Antoine who is constantly screaming into the actors’ earpieces.  

Victor’s drawing talent helps accurately recreate the time when he fell in love with his wife. He shaves his white beard and coloured his white hair and dresses like he used to in the 1970s.

The high budget set is packed with huge numbers of extras to accommodate the recommended ambience in period dress with lots of cigarettes, all set in the famous bar from the 1970s where Victor first met Marianne with all the acting scenes pre-drawn by Victor in detail with Marianne’s red hair.

While Victor is reliving his own past love story, the actress who plays his wife is Margot (Dorian Tillier), who happens to be Antoine’s girlfriend, but they have a very unstable relationship that is somewhat abusive on Antoine’s part, while this acting course is evidently resulting in the illusion of Victor falling in love with her for real. On the other hand Antoine improvises to add some layers and complication to the characters, of course to his benefit and to make sure Victor understands that Margot isn’t available to him.

The sweet yet brief one-sided love story  brings back the ambience of Bedos’s debut Mr. & Mrs. Adelman (2017) featuring also Tillier in the role of Sarah Adelman, which was also the long love story between Sarah and Victor.

The 115-minute witty comedy-drama offers questions about complicated relationships, age, women and depression among other reflections regarding time travel as the main concept of the film.

The screenplay is brilliantly intertwined with an aesthetic that was complemented with the attentiveness of the costume designs of the 19th-century and other eras by Emmanuelle Youchnovski and the production design as well by Stéphane Rozenbaum.

The film won three César Awards: best supporting actress (Ardant), best original screenplay (Nicolas Bedos) and best production design. It was also the winner of the Audience Award at Sarajevo Film Festival and a direction award at the Palm Springs International Film Festival.

***

The Danish film Another Round (its original title is Druk), directed by Thomas Vinterberg, is an astute tragicomedy featuring the reflections for four middle-aged men working as teachers in the same high school while they go through a midlife crisis, each in his way. The story centres, a little more than the others, on Martin (Mads Mikkelsen), the history teacher who is bored in class and whose students have lost interest in anything he says. His personal crisis manifests in his untidy clothes and his attitude to the students. Martin is married to Trine (Maria Bonnevie), who has been taking a lot of night shifts, and neither she not his two sons – often lying about in the living room – pays any attention to what he says.  

When he finally asks Trine whether he is boring, her answer is neither here nor there. But it reveals that both of them are in crisis.

The four men gather to spend a night out celebrating the 40th birthday of Nikolaj (Magnus Millang) and, as the party proceeds while they indulge in giant seafood platters and a ceaseless supply of vodka and wine, Martin is sipping lemon soda. Noticing him, Nikolaj starts to expound a theory by the Norwegian philosopher Finn Skårderud that says that human beings are born with a deficit of 0.5‰ of alcohol in their blood, meaning that humans need about two glasses of wine to feel more relaxed and get their creativity, courage and open-mindedness boosted.

The four friends agree to try out this experiment and record its results daily, preparing a scientific research paper. The adventure begins with intense situations, showing how Martin becomes another person, starting to open up. He even reaches out to his students with new and innovative ways to teach them when their parents complain about their grades and they express concern about their university admission scores.

A few days into the experiment, Martin’s students are seen enjoying his class, now filled with energy and personal conversation – notably about who drinks how much every week. It is then he teaches them about Churchill and Roosevelt and how both were known to be heavy drinkers as opposed to Hitler who didn’t drink as much. He manages to excite his students, who have begun to admire him.

Another Round was the reunion of Mads Mikkelsen and Vinterberg after their collaboration on The Hunt (2012), with Mikkelsen also playing the role of a teacher living alone and struggling to win his son’s custody, which earned him the best actor award at the Cannes Film Festival and the audience award at the Danish Film Festival, won several other awards and was nominated for the Oscars as Best Foreign Film as well as the Golden Globes and the BAFTA.

Another Round won the best foreign film at the César Awards as well as several other awards like best editing, best director and best original screenplay at the Danish Film Awards. It also won the audience award for best Nordic film at the Göteborg Film Festival and is currently nominated to two Oscars: best international feature film and best achievement in directing.

As the events proceed and predictably the drinking experiment goes out of control, one of the four teachers, Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), the football coach for younger students, is found hiding bottles of alcohol. Martin too is drinking too much while events between him and his wife escalates, which shows when he us seen walking in the main hall of the school with his bag falling off his shoulders and bumping into a wall.  

The climax and depth of Another Round relates to the relationship between Martin and his wife and how they had both been avoiding each other for years, which was well written in a sounda screenplay co-written by Thomas Vinterberg and Tobias Lindholm, and raising offering existential questions about the middle-class in Denmark and through the conversations the viewer can sense how much of a problem drinking is in Danish society.

While Another Round presents an unorthodox paradox, showing how losing everything might save relationships as in the case with Martin as he and his wife somehow revive their relationship by the end of this journey.

The closing scene of the film was a dreamy scene showing the graduates celebrating with Martin and his other friend Nikolaj by the sea and Martin embarking on an impromptu dance brilliantly synced with the song What a Life with its lyrics terrifically driving the message home.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 8 April, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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