Another Round is a Dark but Welcome Tonic
Director: Thomas Vinterberg Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Lars Ranthe, Magnus Millang Running Time: 115 minutes
Thomas Vinterberg has a curious habit of going to the very darkest corners of humanity and somehow using these dark corners to showcase the most enduring aspects of humanity. A decade ago, Submarino explored the lives of drug addicted and prison bound brothers at the bottom of the Danish socio-economic ladder. More recently, The Hunt took a look at how horrifying but false allegations could implode the lives of even the most innocent of protagonists. What these two films in particular had in common is the desire of the human spirit to survive in the direst of circumstances. Arguably, it could be said that Vinterberg’s films are as much about the power of lasting human connection as the drudgery of human suffering. With Another Round, he again focuses on problematic and dark aspects of Danish society, while injecting a refreshing sense of humor that gives an otherwise gut wrenching story a surprisingly positive hoppy lift.
While there is a notable casting overlap between The Hunt and Another Round, the latter’s narrative is structured around four characters. Mads Mikkelsen is the obvious standout, who might actually be known by some audiences for his participation in Carlsberg adverts. Mikkelsen plays Martin, a history teacher at a secondary school in Copenhagen. He teaches alongside his friends Tommy, Peter, and Nikolaj. While it’s fair to say that none of the quartet are bustling with happiness in their professional and personal lives, it’s Martin who seems to be most despondent. We learn this through a brilliant scene wherein the lads get together for Nikolaj’s 40th birthday. Martin confides in his friends that he feels utterly disconnected from his marriage and that he has slid into a tepid acceptance of professional apathy. He doesn’t quite say it in those words, but he doesn’t need to. Mikkelen’s body language and deliberately low-key demeanor convey Martin in a way that needs no further explanation. While getting drunk off premium vodka and fancy wine, Nikolaj brings up Finn Skarderud, a psychiatrist who theorised that a 0.05% blood alcohol content is optimal for cognitive and behavioural performance. In a manner that seems slightly but never fully tongue in cheek, there is a suggestion that Martin gives this theory a try.
He does so, as we see him slip in some vodka while at work. Noticing an immediate spike in creativity and confidence, the others decide to join in. An informal pact is made, to never drop lower than 0.05% and not drink after 8.00pm (or on weekends). Initially, everyone gets a high from the “experiment.” In particular, the more Martin drinks, the more he appears to reconnect with his life. However, as you’d imagine, all good things must come to an end. As the realities of their descent into alcoholism beings to kick in, the friends face a new challenge of sobering up while still maintaining their new-found buzz for life.
It would be so predictable for a film with this subject matter to be a cesspool of crass humour and sophomoric toxic masculinity. The plot device of the alcohol experiment could easily be seen in a Hangover or Hardy Bucks type of comedy. This is not the case with Another Round. While there are some undeniably funny moments littered throughout the 115 minute run time, Vinterberg looks at this story with sober eyes. The alcohol soaked fun ultimately comes across as sheer desperation, and we aren’t spared the realism of how such a dangerous project was always doomed to unravel the lives of the four main characters. While based on an obviously exaggerated experiment, Another Round shows us a very relatable trajectory. It points out the very real connection between alcohol consumption and the desire to forget the mundane realities of life for just a while. While situated against the backdrop of a Danish society that has its own problems with booze, there’s a lot that is going to hit home for Irish viewers here, whether we like to collectively suffer this emotional hangover or not.
Whether it’s the film we need at the moment is not quite clear just yet, but for many of us, it’s surprisingly introspective. It takes this connection to a very dark place, as it perhaps to be expected from the director at this point. Ultimately though, you can find a wonderfully human story in what might well pick up the accolade for Best International Feature Film at this year’s Oscars.(5 / 5)