POSTED ON DECEMBER 12, 2012:
Timeless Tales of Hope and Change
And Obama's not in either one!
It's pretty great that Mads Mikkelsen will be getting in front of more American faces now that he's playing Hannibal Lecter in the NBC series, Hannibal. The Danish-born actor gained geek cred with his brutal role as One-Eye in Nicholas Winding Refn's Herzog-inspired Norse odyssey, Valhalla Rising and then actual mainstream awareness as the bad guy in Daniel Craig's first outing as James Bond, Casino Royale. Hannibal will probably suck, but rooting for the success of a likable, charismatic actor (in an admittedly fanboyish way) makes their appearance in less mainstream films all the more enjoyable. We like to watch the people we like, no matter the genre or role.
In A Royal Affair, the Sexiest Man in Denmark (by vote of the people) portrays Johann Friedrich Struensee, a German-born doctor who is tapped to become the personal physician of the not-quite-mad king of Denmark, Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard).
Forbidden Love. Alicia Vikander and Mads Mikkelsen betray a king while saving a country in A Royal Affair.
In the mid-18th century, the Danes were ruled by a crushing combination of feckless aristocracy and the church, through the influence of the King's Council. Censorship, torture, and indifference to the misery of the underclass held sway under Christian's hapless reign. The emotionally-stunted monarch would rather dwell in the world of fantasy and acting than pay attention the wonkish details of governance and statecraft -- to letting the Dark Ages mentality of the council hold sway.
Caroline Mathilde (Alicia Vikander), a Welsh princess, is married off to Christian by her father (George III, for those keeping track). The liberal-minded Caroline initially has high hopes for her betrothal -- until she meets Christian, a giggling twat with zero social skills and propensity for boning prostitutes while wondering why his neglected wife isn't more "fun." She bears him a son, and drops the pretext of happiness.
Christian's erratic behavior convinces the court that he needs a doctor. Enter Struensee (Mikkelsen), a populist Enlightenment thinker who realizes he has an opportunity to change the system from the inside. Nominated for the job by some like-minded but disgruntled aristocrats, the anonymous author of underground tracts on personal freedom quickly gains the king's trust -- much to the chagrin of the king's stepmother, the Queen Dowager Juliane (Trine Dyrholm) who hopes to usurp the throne for her own son.
Struensee manipulates Christian -- though lovingly so -- and empowers him, convincing the delusional monarch that he can be a great king if he acts -- his first love -- as if "the lines were written for you." Then Struensee starts screwing the sexually famished Caroline after she realizes he's all about Rousseau and Voltaire and not just some corrupt, ladder-climbing rogue. Never forget, with the right woman, the books on your shelf can get you laid. Being Mads Mikkelsen doesn't hurt, either.
Adapted from the novel Prinsesse af Blodet by director Nikolaj Arcel and co-writer Rasmus Heisterberg, A Royal Affair is a compelling rendition of a pivotal time in Danish history. The spread of the Enlightenment was a key factor in progressive movements all over Europe, an attempt to drag the continent from the clutches of corruption, inequality, ignorance, and the yoke of the church. Under the de facto rule of Struensee, torture, serfdom, noble privileges, censorship, the Court Council, slavery, and most state corruption were replaced by free smallpox inoculations, sanitation, education, taxes on the rich to create a social safety net, and the empowerment of the lowest classes. While his work was impeded by the scandal of his affair with the queen, it bore liberal-socialist fruit that bloomed long after his death.
Nikolaj Arcel makes A Royal Affair feel immediate within the construct of a doomed romance and the chronicle of what amounts to a civil rights pioneer. And he shoots a gorgeous-looking film -- the pastoral Germanic locales captured in expertly composed scenes by cinematographer Rasmus Videbæk (Island of Lost Souls). The locations, excellent period art, and production design all draw the viewer confidently into its world, cemented by a compelling plot that defies the films unhurried pace.
Performances are uniformly adept, particularly with Mikkelsen and Vikander, who share a tangible chemistry -- underneath Mikkelsen's stoicism lurks a subdued humor, warmth, and a vulnerability in his scenes with Vikander, herself a standout. Vikander brings a simmering and subtle discontent to what amounts to the role of Anna Karenina -- something Keira Knightly should try more often.
Well done, the seeming staidness of historical drama falls away. With A Royal Affair, Nikolaj Arcel deftly subverts artifice and crafts a direct, tangible, and satisfying story reminding us that change is generational and that the festering status quo of the old establishment thankfully dies with it.
A Royal Affair opens Dec. 14 at the Circle Cinema.
Age of Champions
Making the festival rounds and soon to enjoy a nationwide premiere on PBS this January, Age of Champions, the new documentary by the Sacramento-based duo Christopher Rufo and Keith Ochwat, chronicles an ensemble of December competitors as they battle it out in the National Senior Olympics -- and if you didn't know such a thing existed, join the club.
"The moment I first heard about the Senior Olympics, the proverbial light bulb went off," said the film's director, Christopher Rufo, in a press release. "The subject was perfect -- diverse locations, colorful characters, exciting visual action, and a ready-made competition structure."
And its colorful characters are the name of the game.
Filmed over the course of two years, Age of Champions introduces us to a varied cast of endearing and memorable athletes as they prepare to compete in the national games -- basketball, track and field, swimming, and tennis, among other events.
Roger Gentilhomme, a tennis player who beat cancer as well as the entire 20th century, is a sweet-hearted Cape Cod resident who wants nothing more than to "turn 100, so I can get into the 100 and older [tennis] group" -- which must be an exclusive club indeed.
Then we have the ladies, a 65-and-up group of no-bullshit, playing-for-keeps, Louisiana basketball matriarchs called the Tigerettes, whose rivalry with a northern team, the Great Lakes Classics, could be a movie all its own -- the way they body check the competition is weirdly amusing. These God-fearing, blue bonnet Christian ladies are utterly cutthroat on the court.
The flipside are those who come to the games because of circumstance -- lives that need to be fulfilled now that time is more precious. Washingtonians Bradford and John Tatum have been swimming enthusiasts since the time when blacks couldn't swim in public pools -- they'd run laps in canals, rivers, and even the reflecting pool at the Lincoln Memorial. They are fueled by brotherly love and memories. Bradford has been diagnosed with colon cancer, the therapy for which he's willing to put off just for the chance to compete at the San Francisco nationals.
Eighty-eight-year-old Texan Earl Blassingame began his involvement in the discus and shot-put categories of the Olympic events after the death of his wife (a scene where he talks about her passing will put a lump in anyone's throat), pitting him against the shit-talking, fellow Texan Adolph Hoffman ("Earl seems comfortable with second place"), a hale 86 year-old pole-vaulting badass whom Earl knows he'll never beat, though that won't keep him from trying.
Brothers in Arms. Bradford and John Tatum swim like their lives depend on it in the upcoming documentary, Age of Champions.
Produced by the AARP as a part of the "You've Earned Your Say" program -- which, like all aspects of the group, promotes and advocates for the health, welfare, and relevance of the elderly -- Age of Champions is an eye-opening look at not only the events of the Senior Olympics, but the personalities behind the competitors. They are a surprising and often endearing bunch who defy the conventions of not just their seeming place in the world of sports but their expected societal roles.
Utterly charming and entertaining, director Rufo mines the rich material of what amounts to great, real-life characters and their unlikely commitment to a young person's game. From the basketball-playing Southern belles, those Tigerettes, who send their wrinkled adversaries away on stretchers for the win -- "I hope we're intimidating," says the captain of their five-time gold medal winning team -- to the sweet camaraderie between the men who don't seem to have anything to prove to anyone but themselves, Age of Champions is a heartwarming, funny, and a window into what inspires all of us.
The makers of Age of Champions have begun a national "Host a Screening" campaign ahead of the PBS premiere to spread inspiration to communities large and small, and to send the message that dreams don't arbitrarily end because they are supposed to. The film was screened at the OSU-Tulsa Conference Center on Dec. 10. For more information or to arrange another screening, visit ageofchampions.org.
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