- Courtesy Of Samuel Goldwyn Films
- I DRINK, THEREFORE I AM Mikkelsen finds an intellectual justification for binge drinking in Vinterberg's dark comedy
Our streaming entertainment options are overwhelming — and not always easy to sort through. This week, I watched director-cowriter Thomas Vinterberg's Another Round, Denmark's official submission to the Best International Feature Film category at the 2021 Academy Awards. Along with nine other potential Oscar contenders, it's playing at the Vermont International Film Foundation's Virtual Cinema through February 18.
Four friends who teach at the same high school, Martin (Mads Mikkelsen), Nikolaj (Magnus Millang), Peter (Lars Ranthe) and Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), are well into the don't-give-a-damn stage of their careers. Martin, in particular, is so depressed and aimless that he bumbles through his history lectures, skipping randomly from the Industrial Revolution to Winston Churchill and provoking complaints from his students.
Then, at a drunken birthday celebration, Nikolaj tells the others about an academic's theory that people can enhance their mental agility and creativity by maintaining a constant blood alcohol concentration of 0.05. The men decide to try it.
Soon Martin is swigging vodka in the boys' room between classes. His rambling lectures become electrifying — or at least animated — and even his distant wife (Maria Bonnevie) seems to like him better with a buzz. His friends are enjoying the experiment, too. But how long can they keep up their binge (the literal translation of the film's title, Druk) before the inevitable hangover sets in?
Will you like it?
Sooner or later, Hollywood will remake Another Round for the U.S. market. It will be a broad comedy about four middle-aged losers who rediscover their youthful zest for life through booze — only to learn, after many pratfalls, that life itself is the greatest intoxicant. They will apologize tearfully to their wives and reconnect with their mortified children. Think The Hangover, but more life affirming.
Another Round is not that movie, because Vinterberg (The Celebration) doesn't do broad comedy or uncomplicated affirmations. He does claustrophobic handheld-camera work and jarring contrasts. The movie opens with an extended scene in which a gang of teens — the protagonists' students — holds a beer-chugging race that evolves into a bacchanal. It's every music video, selling a dream of carefree exuberance — until the director smash cuts to silence and a black screen.
The implication is that every binge must have an end. For Martin and the others, that means being marooned in the desert of middle age. When the men try to recapture their youthful high by getting smashed, separately or together, the soundtrack swells, and the film slips into music video mode again. It's a high for the audience as well as the characters — until the music cuts out, the consequences set in, and Vinterberg returns to dark, ironic realism.
Viewers will inevitably ask: What's the message of all this? Is the filmmaker suggesting that people might, in fact, enjoy their lives more and do their jobs better while slightly inebriated? It seems so (Another Round probably isn't a good watch for anyone trying to maintain sobriety). And yet the film doesn't gloss over the grave long-term consequences of all that inebriation.
When it comes to mood alterants, Americans tend to want to think in all-or-nothing terms. How can a substance be both helpful and harmful? In my imaginary Hollywood version of Another Round, the characters would eventually discover that true happiness comes not from a bottle or a trick of brain chemistry but from love, family and personal fulfillment.
The ending of Vinterberg's film is far more ambiguous. Throughout — most notably in a montage of tipsy world leaders — he shows how people use booze to smooth their social interactions and regulate their moods. When Nikolaj boasts that he and his friends aren't alcoholics because they can control their drinking, we recognize the faulty rationalization — probably because we've made some form of it ourselves.
Another Round is a comedy with a dark Scandinavian core. In Vinterberg's world, the drunken high is one of the illusions human beings use to get themselves through life. Those bubbles always burst, and sometimes they burst badly. But an illusory happiness is still better than none at all.
If you like this, try...
The Hunt (2012; Kanopy, Tubi, Pluto TV, Vudu, rentable): Vinterberg and Mikkelsen previously teamed up for this more sober drama in which the latter plays a kindergarten teacher who is accused of sexual abuse based on a child's misinterpreted words.
Hope (2020; VTIFF Virtual Cinema through February 18): Martin's midlife marriage woes are a subplot in Another Round. This acclaimed Norwegian drama, based on director Maria Sødahl's own experience, focuses tightly on what happens in a long, troubled marriage after one spouse receives a diagnosis of terminal cancer.