Another Round (2020)
Danish director Thomas Vinterberg, The Hunt (2012), reunites with his long-term collaborator, actor Mads Mikkelsen for Another Round, aka Druk, in which a series of middle-aged and somewhat emotionally dispossessed teachers experiment with the idea of raising their blood alcohol level to 0.5% based on a notion proposed by Norwegian psychiatrist Finn Skårderud. The resulting experiment leads to differing levels of personal success and eventual failures for each of the men as they use alcohol to pull themselves out of personal and professional slumps.
Martin (Mads Mikkelsen) is a history teacher at a senior Danish college. He is preparing his students for their final university entrance exams and is failing dismally to engage with them. Worse, this level of disengagement has also permeated his home life, with his wife Anika (Maria Bonnevie) barely interacting with him. Martin has reached a low in his personal and professional life in which he feels lost to himself and those around him. Also facing challenges are his three teacher colleagues. Philosophy teacher Nikolaj (Magnus Millang) invites Martin to his fortieth birthday party. Also in attendance are Peter (Lars Ranthe), a music teacher at the school, and Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), a physical education teacher and soccer coach. The men talk about their lives over dinner. Nikolaj has three young children and is feeling the strain of his domestic situation. Peter and Tommy are both single men feeling encroaching middle age starting to weigh upon them. As the dinner carries on, the men get progressively more drunk (even Martin, who was not going to drink as he was driving that evening). The night is an immensely cathartic release for the men, who let loose and recapture some of their missing joie de vivre as they wrestle and play on the streets, emulating the antics of the adolescents they teach.
The success of the evening leads Nikolaj to suggest they experiment with Skårderud’s hypothesis and start day drinking. Martin has already begun to sneak vodka into the school and is finding that his 0.5% blood alcohol level is helping him to connect with his students. No longer reading from the prescribed history textbook, he engages with them with a more playful attitude. A teacher who was once receiving complaints from students and their parents about his methods is now finding his class enthusiastic. Similar results occur for the music teacher Peter who manages to get the school choir to perform intuitively. For coach Tommy the day drinking means that he is more enthused about his junior soccer team, even leading them to a victory.
At first, the men model the day drinking after the author Ernest Hemingway whose literary output seems reason enough for them to use him as an example (the fact that the author committed suicide at 61 doesn’t seem to be a deterrent). Drinking is to cease by 8:00 pm and only be done during the week. As the men begin to experience an uptick in their professional and personal lives, they up the ante to consuming more alcohol more often. The progression from buzzed to black-out drunk comes as expected, and negative to tragic consequences are the eventual outcome.
On the surface, the film seems like a series of vignettes that follow each of the men on their personal journey with drunkenness. However, what is at stake is more a subtle and pervasive question; what is the cost of middle age? The group of four men are always in contrast with the young people they teach (who are also consuming vast quantities of alcohol, as is shown in the opening scene of the “case marathon” where they race around a lake with a case of beer drinking on each lap). However, it isn’t a matter of keeping up with the youth and their habits, or even connecting with them through them, although Martin does do this in a class. The film ponders what it takes to be the person you thought you once were going to become. Nowhere is this more evident than in Martin’s faltering relationship with his wife. Martin was once a promising student, set to do a Ph.D. and taking jazz ballet classes. Somehow, he has grown into a moribund man who his wife admits isn’t the Martin she met.
As the alcohol intake ramps up into full frenzy, relationships begin to break down. The comradery between the men and the highs the experiment elicits cannot compete with reality. Martin’s wife and children leave him, Nikolaj’s wife also takes their children to stay with her sister. Tommy is drinking so heavily that he can no longer hide the fact from the school, and eventually, he loses his job. In the sober daylight, the men decide they have to stop the experiment because it can lead to alcoholism.
Alas, the outcome is more tragic for at least one of the men. Vinterberg doesn’t moralize on the topic, however, leaving interpretation open for the viewer. Perhaps the mid-life slump they were experiencing was given some levity during the experiment, and maybe the experiment was eventually detrimental, but in the end, the question of how one faces the disappointments of the present is left open.
Thomas Vinterberg was once part of the Dogme 95 Movement with fellow Danish director Lars von Trier and others, and although Another Round breaks the “Vows of Chastity” set out by the movement in some ways, the film’s naturalism (until the final scene) keeps faith with the spirit of the movement. Vinterberg has set out to tell a small-scale tale of what it is to wish for more than the everyday experience of living that becomes increasingly entrenched in the banal during middle age.
Another Round is an exquisitely crafted piece of cinema. Vinterberg’s direction is assured and cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen, Victoria (2015), manages to masterfully switch from naturalism to a more impressionistic style to heighten the feeling of drunkenness as the characters experience it. Especially of note is Mads Mikkelsen’s performance. Mikkelsen anchors the film with his ability to express Martin’s inner life — ranging from exhausted and drained to exuberant and renewed, he demands the viewer’s attention through his emotional journey. A consummate support performance by Thomas Bo Larsen, The Hunt (2012), as Tommy adds to the poignant storyline his character undergoes.
For some audiences, Vinterberg’s decision not to place moral overtones on the film will perhaps be confusing. For a movie ostensibly about the effects of alcohol, the central purpose isn’t to glorify or demonize drinking; the heart of the matter lies with the characters and their own coming to terms with who they are. The film doesn’t end on a sour note even though reckonings have come. One thing that is certain is that the audience can raise a glass to Vinterberg’s work, which never fails to captivate. Salut!
4 / 5 – Recommended
Reviewed by Nadine Whitney