The rivalry between the ice-cool Bjorn Borg and volatile John McEnroe dominated tennis headlines in the late 70s/early 80s. Not interested in anything but being the best, Borg retired from tennis at the age of just 26 when the American replaced him as world number one in 1981.
But not before, in 1980, Borg won his fifth consecutive Wimbledon title, beating McEnroe in five sets in what is regarded as the greatest final ever seen at the All-England club. Borg McEnroe is centred round the 1980 tournament as pressure mounts on Borg to make history.
Sverrir Gudnason (Blowfly Park, Original) is appropriately cool and emotionless as Borg – and his likeness to the Swede is uncanny. Wedding plans (to Romanian tennis player Mariana Simionescu) and Wimbledon preparations do not go hand-in-hand, adding to the pressure. An emerging McEnroe (a wonderful supporting role from Shia LeBeouf – Transformers, Lawless) has his own points to prove – to both his family and the tennis world in general.
Mixing flashbacks to both men’s childhoods (interestingly Borg was a wilful and volatile teenage tennis player) with current relationship issues both on and off the court, director Janus Metz (Armadillo, Fra Thailand til Thy) brings his documentary aesthetic to ultimately let the tennis and the final itself speak for the film. Overheads, close-ups, cropping add to the excitement, making up for a somewhat oversimplified and stodgy off-court narrative.
(It makes for an interesting accompaniment with the 60s-set Battles of the Sexes)
A riveting historical drama as the King of Norway must decide whether to sign the accord with Hitler and the invading German army – or risk war and civilian deaths.
The burden of responsibility is carried by King Haakon VII (superbly played by Jesper Christensen – Casino Royale, Melancholia) over three eventful days as the Germans search for the King in the snowy countryside north of Oslo. The fate of his country and family hang in the balance as Haakon confronts his moral dilemma.
Measured yet immersive, director Erik Poppe (1,000 Times Goodnight, Troubled Water) avoids overtly emotional scenes or cliches, looking instead to reasoned arguments and discussions to determine the final choice for the king.
Some 85 films were submitted for consideration for the 2017 best foreign language Oscar. Sweden’s entry, A Man Called Ove, made the final shortlist of five before losing out to Iran’s The Salesman. The other 80 must have been appalling if the Hannes Holm-helmed dramedy was seen as one of the best of the year (Julieta, Elle, Neruda, My Life as a Zucchini are just a few that failed to make that final five).
Lonely, grumpy widower Rolf Lassgard (After the Wedding, The Hunters) learns to smile again after a new family moves into the neighbourhood. Off-kilter humour early on gives way to crowd pleasing tosh, resulting in disjointed comedic sentimentality. Deeply unimpressed.
Oscar-nominated Danish film, Land of Mine is the riveting story of a group of young German POWs forced to clear a beach of thousands of buried landmines.
Based on true events where thousands of (mostly teenage) German POWs lost their lives in the immediate months following the end of World War II clearing landmines, director Martin Zandvliet (Applause, Teddy Bear) focuses on a small group under the watch of an angry Danish sergeant (Roland Moller – A Hijacking, Northwest).
Avoiding excess melodrama or grandstanding, the stark economy of dialogue and action result in concern for each of the boys whilst understanding the anger of the Danes towards what they represent. Beautifully photographed with understated performances, Land of Mine is a deeply moving anti-war film full of chilling suspense.
A true story told as a predictable melodrama, The Fencer is conventional but engaging.
Endel Nelis (a solid Mart Avandi) arrives to teach at a school in the small Estonian town of Haapsalu during the post-war Stalin era. His leaving Leningrad stirs suspicion among party officials at the school: the fact he is a fencing champion adds to their interest.
Starting a successful fencing class as part of the (‘voluntary’) Saturday Sports Club goes against the proletariat teaching of the principal – and brings attention on Nelis from education officials outside the town. And then the kids get wind of an all-Soviet elite fencing competition due to take place in Leningrad….
The Fencer is a David & Goliath story set in the drab, atmospheric 1950s (perfectly captured in set design and cinematography). It’s an unchallenging enjoyment marred slightly by an overemphatic score.
A remote, windswept valley is the setting as two brothers, estranged for 40 years in spite of their farms sharing common boundaries, must come together to save their livelihoods – the sheep that graze the barren landscape.
It’s a quiet, quirky drama, the unfolding winter-set tragedy imbued with a dark humour. Director Grimur Hakonarson (Summerland, A Pure Heart) draws us into the brothers’ world – and their relationship with the land and, importantly, the sheep. Like the film itself, lead Sigurour Sigurjonsson, the elder of the two brothers, is an understated, nuanced presence that stays with you.
I would like the two hours of my life spent watching this pretentious claptrap back.
Bizarre, overtly stylised, heavily staged, muted tones – a series of vaguely connected vignettes (some only seconds long) loosely exploring ethics and morality. Banal, nonsensical, annoying – the jury at the 2014 Venice Film Festival deserve to be served up in b’stilla (Moroccan pigeon pie) in awarding this the Golden Lion.
Sweden’s entry into the race for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar – and apparently one of the favourites. Not wholly convinced.
The main problem is that the arguments within the film peter out into nothingness and feel unresolved – which is a pity as for the first two thirds of its two hours, it’s deft, provocative and uncompromising in exploring the expectations behind masculinity and parenting.
And the location – high in the French Alps – is beautiful.