In Thomas Vinterberg’s new film, four middle-aged men conduct a social experiment based on an anecdotal theory that the human body needs 0.05 per cent blood alcohol content [BAC] to function properly. The rules are simple. For most of the day they must drink enough to maintain a constant BAC level – enough to reach a slight buzz but not enough to leave one wasted – which means they have to be drunk during work hours. All four men are schoolteachers.
Mads Mikkelsen leads the group as history teacher Martin, disrespected by his students, neglected by his wife and sons at home. He lost the passion he used to have as life and time got in the way. At a dinner with his colleagues, he slowly lets off the steam and rekindles the joie de vivre he thought he had lost. The solution, he theorises, is alcohol and after a short inebriation trial he shares his findings with his fellow mates Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), Nikolaj (Magnus Millang) and Peter (Lars Ranthe). For a moment his classes are once more fun and engaging. He feels young and confident. A man defeating his midlife crisis.
Vinterberg and his cinematographer, Sturla Brandth Grøvlen, are careful to only show us the point of view of the four men, even if breaking it could have a bigger dramatic punch. For the most part, we share their thrill, like constant hits of serotonin. Even when reality hits, it does so through the tinted spectacles of deniability. It’s not to say the film endorses alcohol abuse, more that it understands its importance in Danish culture.
Vinterberg isn’t interested in educating his audience or punctuating with hammered morality that would’ve been too dishonest. He instead populates the background with patriotic symbols and cultural details that help to correlate drunkenness with Denmark’s way of life. This almost symbiotic relationship exists for better or for worse, and Vinterberg doesn’t oppose nor celebrate. Rather, he accepts it.
A particular scene, a funeral of someone who succumbed to alcoholism, ends with a group of young children singing the national anthem of Denmark. It’s such a brutally honest moment that comes exactly when our characters contemplate the consequences of their actions. Yet it doesn’t feel patronising nor deceitful, and it serves as the perfect propeller for the confident and upbeat ending the film rightfully deserves.
Credit to all four actors who play their drunk selves so convincingly I wouldn’t be surprised if they were shooting under the influence (they weren’t). Mikkelsen especially has this gravitating presence very few actors can claim, which makes it difficult to convince us at the start that a class of high schoolers wouldn’t find him compelling, even if tries hard to sound uninteresting. It works, but it’s when his charisma runs amok that his performance shines. This is a role that could’ve easily devolved into cheap comedy and yet he so confidently holds it all together.
For a film with such a simple premise, Another Round is delightfully complex. It never loses focus on what’s important, though it gives itself ample opportunities to steer away. One moment of care between a coach and a young misfit child does not go where you think it does, and a plot point about a teacher convincing a student to take shots before an exam is surprisingly earnest and sweet. Vinterberg’s control is, well, sobering and by the end earns one of the most infectious and exhilarating endings of the last couple of years.