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Close encounters with the cosmos and self-examinations of human habits this week, as Prime releases the new Michael Pearce film, MUBI launches social drama Gagarine, and NOW uncorks the Oscar-winning Another Round.
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Another Round - NOW with a Sky Cinema Membership (from 12 December)
The award-winning comedy from famed Danish director Thomas Vinterberg, Another Round follows a group of teachers that embark on an experiment to test a theory by psychiatrist Finn Skårderud that humans are born with a blood alcohol content deficiency and that being at a certain level makes one more creative and relaxed. The experiment appeals to all of them because of a slew of personal problems, and so they lay out ground rules, and essentially drink throughout the day to maintain a constant blood alcohol level.
Another Round is fairly easy to slot into the category of being some kind of cautionary tale about binge-drinking but Vinterberg’s approach isn’t so simple. At first the men are genuinely liberated and happy due to their experiment and the positive changes that initially occur, and the film’s exuberant coda — which makes astonishing use of lead actor Mads Mikkelsen’s background in ballet — goes after a more life-affirming tone than a scolding one.
It’s not quite a condemnation nor a celebration of drinking culture, and doesn’t dedicate itself to any kind of didacticism about it. Instead it finds its magic in exploring the multifaceted ways in which these social practices can affect people, and that's why it won the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film earlier this year.
Also on NOW: A Christmas Number One, Playing God, The Unholy
Gagarine - MUBI (from 12 December)
A patiently paced, beautifully framed mix of social realism and magical realism, Gagarine follows 16-year-old science enthusiast Youri (named after Yuri Gagarin, the first man to travel to outer space). The boy, who has lived all his life in Gagarin Towers, a vast red-brick housing project on the outskirts of Paris dreams of becoming an astronaut. The film opens with actual footage of Gagarin visiting and christening the forward-thinking social housing, which has in the modern day become dilapidated and neglected, some of its own residents complaining that it needs to be torn down. Youri quietly does his best to provide some upkeep, maintaining the lighting and wiring around the building, which has become a steadying presence since his immigration.
When plans to demolish Gagarin Towers leak out, Yuri joins the resistance with his friends Diana and Houssam, creatively attempting to save his Parisian housing estate from demolition. Their home, also named for the Russian cosmonaut, essentially becomes Youri's ‘starship’. It’s a film of great imagination and melancholic beauty. It falls a little bit short, but it reaches the moon while shooting for the stars.
Also on MUBI: Il Divo
Encounter - Amazon Prime Video
Malik, a decorated marine with PTSD (Riz Ahmed), kidnaps his two young sons in the guise of a ‘rescue mission’ from an alien threat. The resultant, oddball father/son(s) journey is one that is slippery with its approach to genre as it treats that initial sci-fi premise as genuine, before unspooling into something that doesn't quite add up to the sum of its parts.
Before this, Michael Pearce’s acclaimed debut feature Beast was probably best known for launching Jessie Buckley to international attention (and at the same time, perhaps partially responsible for the circumstances that lead to Johnny Flynn playing Bowie in Stardust). Beast flattened any tension with an insistence on ‘mysterious’ opacity, Encounter similarly squanders an interesting premise cynically for the purpose of a perfunctory plot twist. Seek out Clint Eastwood's A Perfect World instead.
Also on Prime Video: Wrath of Man
Watch: Guy Ritchie talks to Yahoo about Wrath of Man