Film review by Jason Day of Another Round, the comic drama by director Thomas Vinterberg of a group of middle-aged teachers and an experiment in drinking alcohol. Starring Mads Mikkelsen and Thomas Bo Larsen.
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A group of High School teachers in Denmark bored with their careers and lost in their personal lives discuss a theory. All humans, allegedly, are born with a base alcohol level that means they are inherently able to prosper from a certain level of moderate inebriation.
They create an academic study about this and the initial results are encouraging. But when initial, inebriated success has been reached, the level of alcohol needs to be increased leading to worrying outcomes for all.
Review, by @Reelreviewer and @win_hughes
We’re not alcoholics. We decide when we want to drink. An alcoholic can’t help himself.
Nicolaj (Magnus Millang) in Another Round (2020).
When you sit down to watch a satirical drama about people’s reliance on alcohol to deal with family, work and society what would be your choice of refreshment to whet your whistle? What drink would a sensible and totally professional film critic such as I (!) imbibe?
- Water, still of sparkling
- A cup of tea or coffee
- Fruit juice or fizzy pop/soda
- A bottle of beer/ale/lager/bitter
- A fancy cocktail
Yes, I went for a beer.
The original Danish title for the film is ‘Druk’ which means heavy-drinking and, obviously, looks like the English word drunk. It’s an amusing similarity to sets the foundation for further satirical swipes at the boozy culture in Scandinavia; Danes have a similar problem with binge-drinking that we have in the UK.
We open with a raucous graduation drinking game, the aim of which is to avoid vomiting after a ‘beer run’ although many don’t achieve that. The students run riot on a train, although fellow passengers and transport security take it all very lightly, with one elderly lady happily accepting a free drink from them. Even when one security guards is handcuffed to a railing, he barely raises his voice. This is a normal and mild ‘rite of passage’.
Contrast this with the supposedly mature, almost intellectualised drinking of their teachers. At a restaurant they are served by knowledgeable sommeliers who convince them with florid description to indulge in beers, wines and spirits with possibly spurious claims of pedigree (one vodka was developed for the Tsar of Russia).
Not that the men need much convincing and the night soon descends into good-natured if inappropriate and noisy displays of dancing. As with their train-bound students, fellow diners hardy bat an eyelid.
The link is clear. Heavy drinkers are ‘born’ not in the womb but when they are young and innocent and about town and continue on that path into jaded middle-age, like their academics.
In later scenes, the men are less choosy about their watering holes and end up at a more boisterous venue where the veneer of social pretensions was tarnished years ago. Here they really let rip, dancing on a piano, parading around in their underwear, stealing spirits that are still attached to the optics.
The film is not presented with a moral stance from co-writer/director Thomas Vinterberg. He and his camera are more observers to the intoxicated action and invite us to watch and form our own opinions.
Martin’s (Mads Mikkelsen) wife (Maria Bonnevie) tells him that the cultural over-drinking situation in the country is crazy and implies she and her children have put up with his drinking for a long time.
The experiment the guys conduct is as dubious as the sommelier’s claims but their commitment to this sociological cause starts with scientific seriousness. After a few brief days of moderate drinking they achieve notable successes; Martin gets back in the groove for teaching and Peter (Lars Ranthe) makes his useless choir finally sing in tune.
Even Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen) the divorced, depressed PE teacher (and career piss-head) gets ‘Specs’, a bespectled little boy forever on the football sidelines, to score a goal.
It can only go downhill from here.
Martin and his wife separate and when they meet up again, the normally teetotal Anika gulps a glass of wine down to deal with the stress as Martin, cool as a cucumber, sips a glass of water.
Nikolaj’s wife moves in with her sister after he comes home drunk and wets the bed (a familiar trope, as the children usually do it to him).
Tommy progresses from hiding bottles of grog around the school gymnasium to full-blown alcoholism, abandoning his friends after the experiment collapses and sailing out to sea. He either commits suicide or accidentally falls into the water.
The fittingly alcohol-fueled way his pals mark his passing is, the most appropriately inappropriate celebration of his live and gives us a sort-of happy ending. We see Martin dancing exuberantly, frenetically, cheered on by a new crop of drunk graduates.
Neither the men, their students or wider Denmark will change anytime soon, but again there is no moral judgement – what we say is just how it is.
Excellent performances from the principal four, especially Larsen as the doomed Tommy. I’m so used to seeing Mikkelsen in US/English language productions, it’s surprising and refreshing to hear him talk in his native tongue.
My good pal Win Hughes said: “I wasn’t sure I was going to like this film. Subtitles, about alcohol and it was a satire – all the ingredients that could spell a long night. But I couldn’t have been more wrong.
“There were genuine laugh out loud gags and the content has had me thinking since the film ended. It’s a film that wears its heart lightly and doesn’t seem to preach.
“All the actors were brilliant and Mads Mikkelsen embodies the man adrift in life and who is seeking answers. That alcohol makes him professionally succeed is balanced by terrible personal consequences. I truly enjoyed it. Go see it.”
Vinterberg is one of the scions of the dogme95 approach to filmmaking – a set of rules dedicated to reintroducing the element of risk in filmmaking – and he certainly isn’t afraid of courting controversy here.
The film is dedicated to Vinterberg’s late daughter Aida. She was set to have a role in this movie but was killed in a car accident early into its production. Perhaps a measure of his own personal grief has helped inform the final piece.
There is the potential for a US remake starring Leonardo DiCaprio. It will be interesting to see how that pans out as satirical comedy stateside can be heavy-handed and miss the mark with irony.
Cast & credits
Director: Thomas Vinterberg. 1hr 57mins/117min. Zentropa Entertainments/Film i Väst/Zentropa International Sweden/Topkapi Films et al. (12a).
Producers: Kasper Dissing, Sisse Graum Jørgensen.
Writers: Thomas Vinterberg, Tobias Lindholm.
Camera: Sturla Brandth Grøvlen.
Music: Janus Billeskov Jansen.
Sets: Sabine Hviid.
Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Magnus Millang, Lars Ranthe, Maria Bonnevie, Helene Reingaard Neumann, Susse Wold, Magnus Sjørup, Silas Cornelius Van, Albert Rudbeck Lindhardt, Martin Greis-Rosenthal.