After a few years of being the go-to quirky European character actor of choice for Hollywood blockbusters, Mads Mikkelsen returns to Danish cinema in style. Another Round (or Druk in Danish) sees Mikkelsen reunited with director Thomas Vinterberg, with whom he made the deeply affecting drama The Hunt. This time round, however, proceedings are a touch more jovial than the extremely depressing movie for which he won Best Actor at Cannes.
Martin (Mikkelsen) is in the throes of what seems like a good old-fashioned mid-life crisis. His marriage is crumbling, he’s unmotivated in his work as a history teacher, and he seems perpetually weighed down by the unnamed failures of his past. On a night out with his friends and fellow colleagues, a curious experiment is proposed. A Norwegian psychiatrist named Finn Skårderud hypothesized that humans have an alcohol deficit of 0.05% in their blood. If this matter is rectified then we may be generally happier, more fulfilled, and more productive in our daily lives. So, Martin, as well as Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), Nikolaj (Magnus Millang), and Peter (Lars Ranthe) decide to give it a go. Purely for research purposes, of course. Will being just a little bit tipsy all the time make them better people?
It’s easy to read this plot description and assume the worst. In more careless or lazier hands, Another Round could easily be a broad comedy that hits all the beats of a caricature. Somewhere, you just know that Happy Madison Productions are mad that they didn’t come up with this concept first. It’s just as well that they didn’t because, in Vinterberg’s hands, this story is funny, tragic, intriguing, and taken completely seriously. At first, the plan seems to work. The men are looser, more motivated at work, and their students seem to be benefitting from their renewed verve for life. Martin, in particular, seems like a new man. He smiles more, tells jokes, tries to reconcile with his wife and kids, and just looks better. Mikkelsen gives his best performance since Hannibal here, perfectly balancing the low-level depression and self-pity of Martin’s predicament with the confidence that accompanies a few shots of vodka. People just seem to like him more when he’s boozing. Of course, it can’t last, and things soon get messy. Many actors overplay drunkenness but Mikkelsen is wisely controlled in his approach. He nails the all-too-familiar balance one tries to maintain when we’re pleasantly buzzed but still eager to exert control over our wandering limbs and ability to pronounce words longer than three syllables. And yes, he dances, and seeing this former ballet dancer completely cut loose will surely inspire a number of memes.
Drinking is a social norm as well as a communal practice. It’s also one with a weird history. The men talk about legends like Churchill, Hemingway, and Tchaikovsky, all of whom were heavy drinkers whose alcoholism became part of their ‘genius’ legend. One hilarious montage shows an assortment of world leaders, including Boris Johnson, either indulging in a pint for the cameras or acting in undeniably drunk ways. It’s also seen as the ultimate bonding tool, especially among men. When the four teachers party, they’re a riot. Denmark’s drinking culture (and really, every other country’s relationship with alcohol) is forever bubbling beneath the surface of this tale.
Another Round has no interest in proselytizing the evils of booze or teaching its audience a black-and-white lesson about alcohol/ Real life doesn’t work that way, and Vinterberg is deeply invested in telling a realistic story, even with a plot this potentially absurd. Alcohol works differently from person to person, and for our quartet of pseudo-scientists, the results vary. Some handle their drink better than others, and some succumb to addiction very quickly. There are positives as well as negatives. Things go well for some of the men because of the drinking, but that does not outweigh the inevitably disastrous consequences of being a perpetual day-drinker while trying to maintain a job teaching children. It’s a remarkably non-judgemental film about hedonism and addiction, one that invites you, the viewer, to decide how much sympathy or understanding to give these men.
It’s not so much that Another Round is ambiguous about its moral center so much as it’s unconcerned with offering one in the first place. Alcohol and its benefits or evils are subjective, and no amount of public policy or scaremongering can undo centuries of its power. What is fun for some may be unbearably cruel to others, and vice versa. A lot of scenes in Another Round will make plenty of people chuckle while others will be left uncomfortable, and that’s the point. It’s a strange sort of messiness, but one that feels painfully honest. Sometimes, you can disentangle the good elements of such a life from the bad.
The Toronto International Film Festival ran from September 10-19. For more information, visit the TIFF website.
Epidemiologists do not think it’s safe yet to go to theaters even with social distancing and safety measures in place. This review is not an endorsement or suggestion otherwise. Our reviewers are covering the films remotely with the use of screening links.
Header Image Source: TIFF