Another Round

Is life better when we’re a little bit drunk?

M, 116 minutes

4 stars

Review by © Jane Freebury

 

Provocation is something some filmmakers like Thomas Vinterberg take to with ease and skill. The Danish writer-director has made gentle adaptations of classic Thomas Hardy novels, but he also has a knack for treating contemporary social issues in his modern dramas. Asking questions that can be confronting and make us really think.

When his film Festen appeared in 1998, it was arresting to see a story about sexual predation in a family gathered to celebrate the patriarch’s birthday. The Hunt of 2012 had the title of a vigilante western, but was about a kindergarten worker wrongly accused of child sexual molestation.

director Vinterberg likes asking confronting questions, and making us really think

It is hardly surprising when a film about a tough subject arrives with the Vinterberg tag, because he was one of the co-founders of Dogme 95.

The Danish film movement was all about filmmaking eschewing special effects and returning to the basics, concentrating on narrative and performance. It hasn’t been so hugely influential, but it’s an excellent touchstone to contrast with effects-driven cinema. And some of its most talented practitioners do make great movies.

Vinterberg is in the same company as Dogme 95 co-founder Lars von Trier who has consistently made films that unsettle, disturb and question. Some of von Trier’s confronting – some would say shocking – body of work includes films like Dogville, Breaking the Waves and Nymphomaniac.

The more sensational work by von Trier work may have overshadowed Vinterberg’s nuanced and intellectually testing films, but Vinterberg is hardly less challenging.

In Another Round, Vinterberg takes a look at drinking culture in his country. Does everyone there drink ‘like maniacs’ as someone says? Druk, ‘binge drinking’, is the title of the film in Danish.

Another Round kicks off with deliriously joyful, drunken opening scenes of young people partying by a lake to Scarlet Pleasure’s ‘What a Life’ on the soundtrack.

The partying teens are drinking as much as they possibly can, and more. On the train back into town they trick one of the ticket collectors who intervenes to turn the rowdiness down a notch, handcuffing him to a passenger rail.

The exhilarating mood comes to an abrupt halt as their teachers are introduced, in particular the four middle-aged male colleagues who are also friends outside school. Without any competition, the charismatic Mads Mikkelsen (A Royal Affair, The Hunt, and Casino Royal) comes to the fore as lead character, Martin. He teaches history.

Martin is at this point a rather indifferent teacher, one has to say. In the scenes with his wife and young sons, it is clear that he is not in a good way outside the classroom either. Stuck in mid-life doldrums, he asks his wife, Anika (Maria Bonnevie), if he has become boring. Silly question.

Out with his teaching friends for a 40th birthday dinner, the lads, feeling flat about turning 40, hit on an idea. Why not test the hypothesis of (an actual) Norwegian philosopher and psychiatrist Finn Skarderud that human beings would benefit from always being a little bit drunk?

It’s Skarderud’s theory that the blood alcohol count we are born with is too low and that we should drink to maintain 0.05% to bring out the best in ourselves. A very seductive proposition to a group of chaps who fear their best years may be behind them.

Why not test it out? Why not take the benefits that Skarderud claims and become more relaxed, poised, musical, open and creative? Social and professional performance could only improve.

it hasn’t been just the creative geniuses in history who drank a bit

As Martin explores his more relaxed and creative self in the classroom, he shares interesting facts about significant historical figures and their alcohol use. It hasn’t been just the creative geniuses who drank a bit.

Another Round is structured as a dairy of events, with the men taking a swig on the job. Hard to believe it could go unnoticed for so long, but then there’s a point or two for the story to make as it develops.

Despite the serious topic, some gloomy interiors and the film’s dedication to Vinterberg’s elder daughter who was to have a key role as Martin’s concerned teenage daughter, Another Round ends on a high. It concludes with an exuberant dance performance, an expression of freedom, by Mikkelsen. The very talented actor started out as a gymnast and jazz ballet dancer. Surprise, surprise.

First published in the Canberra Times on 13 February 2021