Review: In the high-spirited Danish dramedy ‘Another Round,’ they drink, therefore they are
In the joyous and melancholic Danish dramedy “Another Round,” the images often express the characters’ own not-so-secret condition: a perpetual state of drunkenness. The camera stumbles alongside Martin (an outstanding Mads Mikkelsen) and his three closest small-town buddies as they head home after a long, well-liquored dinner. It lurches rambunctiously about the classroom where Martin, a history teacher, experiences a mad burst of vodka-fueled inspiration and gives the most dynamic lecture of his life. The filmmaking, for all its tipsiness, retains a striking lucidity: Martin and his friends drink not to lose themselves but to find themselves, violating occupational norms in pursuit of fresh vision and purpose.
That’s their cover story, anyway. Really, though, they’re trying to lose themselves too. Directed by Thomas Vinterberg (who wrote the script with his regular collaborator Tobias Lindholm), “Another Round” is a boisterous, unexpectedly lovely riff on a theory once advanced by the Norwegian psychiatrist Finn Skårderud, who suggested that humans are born with a 0.05% blood alcohol deficiency and should drink steadily throughout the day to compensate. Martin and his pals, all instructors at the same high school, decide to put Skårderud’s ideas to the test in hopes of maximizing their social and professional performance. Their experiment becomes both a bonding exercise and an excuse for recreational drinking in the guise of research.
Most of all, though, it becomes a temporary escape from the dreariness and disappointment of their middle-aged, middle-class existence. Nikolaj (Magnus Millang), who teaches psychology, is exhausted by his life with three young kids. Peter (Lars Ranthe), a music teacher, is depressed for the opposite reason; he desperately longs for a partner and children of his own. Tommy (Vinterberg regular Thomas Bo Larsen), a soccer coach, is the most careless and volatile of the four; when his liquor bottles are found on school premises, you sense the gang’s ruse might be short-lived.
The most complicated figure of the bunch, and the one we spend the most time with, is Martin. Once an academic superstar, he’s now a shadow of his former self, having long since lost his pedagogical mojo and any emotional connection to his wife, Anika (Maria Bonnevie), and their two kids. But that changes once Martin begins his boozy regimen. His history lessons take on new dynamism and urgency. A midsummer canoe trip works wonders for his family and reawakens his and Anika’s long-dormant affections. Everything’s going great. But that only means everything could be going greater, and before long Martin and his similarly resurgent pals are pushing well past Skårderud’s recommended 0.05%, with predictably, sometimes hilariously disastrous results.
What happens, all told, isn’t terribly surprising: the highest of highs, the lowest of lows, drunken benders that threaten to become relationship enders. But “Another Round,” while very much about addiction, isn’t really an addiction drama. It’s a male midlife-crisis comedy in which drinking to excess is less a cause than a symptom of Martin’s funk — and sometimes, yes, a viable solution to it. In his director’s statement, Vinterberg notes that his film takes a humorous and “in some eyes, scandalous approach to a serious topic.” Which is to say that it not only acknowledges but also celebrates the life-giving buzz his characters experience with every swig of absinthe or Smirnoff. This is booze you can use, and in these scenes, their intoxication unabashedly becomes your own.
Their difficulty lies in achieving stability, stasis, equilibrium — not merely when it comes to sustaining the same blood alcohol concentration for several hours but when it comes to maintaining any kind of foothold amid life’s never-ending deluge. Everything is in flux; opportunities fade, passions run dry, years pass and people grow apart. The present generation will soon be supplanted by the next: It’s no accident that the four protagonists are all teachers, and their fondness for their young charges is tinged with nostalgia for their own bygone youth.
Tellingly, the movie kicks off with a scene of local teenagers taking part in a beer-chugging relay race — a nod to Denmark’s notably high rates of youthful alcohol consumption as well as an acknowledgment that the characters’ foibles are to some degree cyclical. (The old imitate the young too: At one point, a soused Nikolaj becomes as incontinent as one of his toddlers.) But they are also rooted in the problems and pressures of life in a close-knit community — a subject that has long been one of Vinterberg’s preoccupations as a filmmaker, from his days as an architect of the self-consciously no-frills Dogma 95 manifesto (and the director of that movement’s crowning achievement, “The Celebration”) to his erratic phase as a maker of slick, commercially accessible dramas.
Perhaps the most salient example is his 2012 collaboration with Mikkelsen, “The Hunt,” which observed a town’s horrifying response to a false accusation of pedophilia and received an Oscar nomination for foreign-language film. “Another Round” will get the chance to follow suit; it’s representing Denmark in the international feature race. With its bacchanalian pleasures and fleet, sun-kissed images (shot by Sturla Brandth Grøvlen), it’s a considerably lighter, happier movie than “The Hunt,” and ultimately a more persuasive one. Mikkelsen, freed from the burden of the earlier film’s witch hunt, gets subtler, richer notes to play as Martin, a man stumbling into an uncertain future even as he yearns for his more idyllic past.
That past includes a background in jazz ballet, as we’re told early in a tantalizing bit of foreshadowing. And without giving too much away, I’ll just note that Mikkelsen’s own experience as a gymnast and dancer is put to inventive use in a performance whose emotional subtlety is matched by its eruptive physicality. “Another Round” itself often moves and swings like a piece of music: Staccato in its rhythms and symphonic in structure, it’s awash in Scarlatti and Schubert, bar tunes and patriotic songs, and climaxes with a jubilant blast of Danish pop/R&B. It sings, and it sparkles.
In Danish with English subtitles
Running time: 1 hour, 57 minutes
Playing: Starts Dec. 4 through Laemmle Virtual Cinema; available Dec. 18 on VOD platforms
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