It’s been eight years since Danish writer/director Thomas Vinterberg and actor Mads Mikkelsen last worked together on the Oscar-nominated The Hunt, which followed a kindergarten teacher as his life falls apart after he is wrongly accused of sexual assault. All of Vinterberg and frequent collaborator (screenwriter) Tobias Lindholm’s films explore uncomfortable topics in thought-provoking, confrontational but always non-moralistic ways. They foreground the character over the story, which works to eschew any moralising or cliche that could easily appear with such narratives.
In Another Round; the subject is much lighter, and so is the hand the story is told with, but there are definite moments of darkness. The film follows Martin (Mikkelsen) a 50-something high school teacher who is dissatisfied with his joyless life; he is an uninspiring and borderline incompetent teacher with a marriage that has staled and not much of a relationship with his two sons. We are confronted with this lifelessness as soon as we meet Martin, especially compared to the opening scene of drunk students with a direction from Vinterberg that is warm and generous. With Martin, there is a muted stillness and a disconnect in the cinematography, editing and Mikkelsen’s magnetic performance that signals the inner anguish. The last straw comes when Martin is confronted by a classroom full of angry students and parents telling him that they’re all failing their final exams because of his inadequate teaching. He breaks down at dinner with his friends and co-workers Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), Peter (Lars Ranthe) and Nikolaj (Magnus Millang) who share similar frustrations about their dissatisfying lives. It is then that psychology teacher Nikolaj explains to them Norwegian psychiatrist Finn Skårderud’s obscure theory that humans are born with a blood alcohol percentage too low and that maintaining a constant level of 0.05% will improve your performance socially, creatively and emotionally and will leave you happier and more fulfilled. Desperate for change and an escape; the four friends dive headfirst into their ‘experiment’. They decide to start drinking at work, but not after 8 pm and not on weekends. They try to thaw their frozen lives by throwing alcohol on them in a conventional quest for youth and contentment
At first, it works wonders. Martin’s teaching is hit with a lightning bolt of energy that sees Mikkelsen lithely jig around the classroom, enthusiastically shouting out questions about D-day and Churchill to his engrossed class — and his previously teetering marriage seems restored. The three other teachers also see boundless improvements and this is where Vinterberg begins to find his funny bone. But rather predictably, after modelling their drinking objectives on Ernest Hemingway, things begin to spin out of control and the cracks in their personal lives, once distorted by a boozy haze, begin to reappear.
It’s unclear what Vinterberg and Lindholm are trying to say about the subject of their film, most likely nothing at all, as the film seems at most points to be a celebration of life and alcohol; of both the good and most definitely the bad. There is a clear refusal to moralise, with neither questions nor answers presented. And as the film goes on, the lines between enjoyment, despair, tragedy and comedy become increasingly blurred. Towards the end, after a heartbreaking tragedy, the characters seem inappropriately celebratory. But it’s a gesture that feels as angry as it does joyful.
Mads Mikkelsen is undoubtedly the star, but Bo Larsen, Ranthe and Millang deliver outstanding performances too to make this film quite an ensemble piece. As Vinterberg decided to keep it in the family with a cast of frequent collaborators (for whom the roles where written), it is clear they understand what Vinterberg wanted to achieve and the cast feels right at home with the script and with each other. And who else could have successfully convinced Mikkelsen to dance like that in the final scene? Hopefully, that’s not a spoiler, but an incentive.
Another Round premiered at the virtual edition of BFI London Film Festival on October 14th
by Madeleine Sinclair
Madeleine Sinclair @madeleinia
Madeleine (she/her) is a film student at the University of Winchester currently working on a dissertation on women killers in giallo films. She’s a big horror fan (the tackier the better) and also loves sci-fi and fantasy. Right now, she thinks her favourite films are Pan’s Labyrinth, The Wicker Man and Deep Red but she is also very indecisive. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @madeleinia and Letterboxd here.