Four boring Danish teachers try day-drinking as a path out of their funks.
Directed by Thomas Vinterberg
Starring Mads Mikkelson, Thomas Bo Larsen, Lars Ranthe, and Magnus Millang
Review by Jon Kissel
As will sound familiar to the readers who’ve been taking in my reviews for a long time (and I thank the many thousands of you), I can’t help but put any movie I watch from Scandanavia into one of two boxes. Either it confirms the stereotype of cold and humorless or it rejects it by showing them as the hearty, back-slapping descendants of Vikings. I have to assume this is Simpsons residue, because I’ve seen far more of the latter kind of Dane or Swede on film than the other kind, and therefore the hard-drinking Baltic beauties might be closer to something like the truth. Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round would certainly subscribe to this, as the true nature of his four middle-aged protagonists needs some high-proof rocket fuel to break free from their deadened carapaces. This story of men who are by turns boring and reckless transcends any narrow preconceptions this viewer might have and locates both halves of an ill-considered dichotomy within individuals, and then attributes both to some kind of chemical imbalance. It does this while also being compelling and affecting, both in its emotional weight and catharsis and in how badly it made me want a drink after watching.
In Sound of Metal, protagonist Ruben Stone repeatedly stresses to doctors and counselors and his girlfriend Lou that he’s trying to save his life. A drummer in a screechy punk duo with Lou, Ruben’s hearing is rapidly deteriorating and is making his day-to-day in a sonic profession impossible, but his actual existence is not in danger. The problems in his inner ear aren’t going to spread to his liver or his kidneys. He’ll continue in a new state, but for Ruben, his life is what it is right now extended into the future. More touring with Lou, eking out an existence in hopefully bigger and bigger venues, but if it’s dive bars forever, that’s fine, too. However, to quote Al Swearengen, ‘announcing your plans is a good way to hear god laugh.’ Darius Marder’s incredible debut film is a beacon of bittersweet hope in a period of disruption. It places Ruben as a would-be immovable object against the unstoppable force of entropy and unpredictable events, and invites him to consider that the life he’s trying to save could instead be a bridge to a better one. For a lot or reasons, Sound of Metal, one of 2020’s best films, arrives at a perfect time.
My number 1 and number 2 favorite films of 2020, Possessor and Nomadland, oddly rhyme with each other despite a complete lack of violence in the latter and a rarely-matched brutality in the former. In Possessor, a vision of the near-future is corrupted from gleaming office buildings as tech magnates invade the homes of users and monetize their every thought, while in Chloe Zhao’s Nomadland, the latest wave of those who opt out of late-stage service-oriented, barrier-to-entry capitalism take to the roads with their vans and their shit buckets. Many of the characters, likely real-life nomads themselves who happened to be around when Zhao was filming, have been injured in some way by neoliberalism and globalization and the general cruelty that’s touching more and more Americans as they try to live as their parents did in the latter half of the 20th century. Possessor crystallizes that cruelty in a pitch-black view of a future that, in Nomadland, is starting to develop. However, stripped of competition and most of one’s possessions, left with no one around other than those who are going through the same experience, a quiet charity and camaraderie develops where security and predictability and insulated comfort used to exist.
If anyone’s been reading my reviews over the seven+ years I’ve been writing them, they might know that I’m an atheist and a materialist who sees no reason to buy into non-corporeal entities like souls. Consciousness is a side effect of brain chemistry, alterable by the addition of chemicals or physical injury, and death is a light switch that returns a human, or any organism, to the same state of unbeing that preceded their lives. With all that said, a film that’s about afterlife and ensoulment is going to have to work hard to overcome my latent skepticism and get me to the buy-in stage. Pixar’s latest film, Soul, is in-house director Pete Docter’s third, after Up and Inside Out, two top-tier entries into the film-as-tear-producing-machines genre that Pixar specializes in. Inside Out also had problems of visualizing personality development and memory, a process that Docter is obviously interested in, but the best parts of that film overpower any knowledge of neurology and get to some level of emotional truth. Soul is even more arbitrary with its developmental allegories, but it has a lot on its mind beyond the Pixar clichés of hidden worlds and communities beneath the surface. My consciousness might exist solely in the folds of my brain, but it does get charmed and moved when Soul is at its best.
For time-loop movies, all live in the shadow of obvious gold standard, Groundhog Day. Howard Ramis’ Bill Murray vehicle is beloved by pretty much everyone, up to and including religious scholars who teach it in universities. Its descendant, Palm Springs, likely won’t be showing up on any syllabi, but it stays true to Groundhog Day’s melding of humor with emotion, slapstick with philosophy. On the other hand, if Ned Ryerson can live in perpetuity, I don’t see why Cristin Milioti fluffing a biker’s mullet can’t also join the pantheon.
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.
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