’Compelling, and more than a little sobering’
Dir. Thomas Vinterberg. Denmark. 2020. 115 mins.
A Fight Club, in its own way, for the drooping, discouraged middle-aged man that fight clubbers may have become, Another Round (Druk) is a funny film which is also desperately sad, a superficially amusing indictment of drinking culture which is much more bitter than sweet. Reuniting with his The Hunt star Mads Mikkelsen and writer Tobias Lindholm, Denmark’s Thomas Vinterberg may clearly be taking aim at his home country’s drinking culture – there’s a great deal of irony laced under a soundtrack of choral, patriotic songs – but the more specific the point, the more universal the resonance.
’A Fight Club for the drooping, discouraged middle-aged man that fight clubbers may have become’
Like Vinterberg’s debut Festen, Another Round is fast and whirling and close-up on its four main characters, woebegone teachers at a local school who decide to embark on an experiment with alcohol. It dances with farce, but there’s a core, painful truth here which could see this film becoming a byword for a certain sort of person behaving in a certain sort of way. Garlanded with the Cannes 2020 label and a place in both Toronto and San Sebastian, Another Round seems certain of a bright future (it has sold out worldwide) as a foreign language film that can break through to the wider consciousness with or without an awards play. The final sequence is also one of the most surprising – and headily invigorating – in recent memory.
It’s not just Mikkelsen in the lead, but three supporting actors including Festen’s Thomas Bo Larsen who give the film its can’t-look-away dynamic. Hard to imagine it, but Vinterberg wholly succeeds in turning Mikkelsen, TV’s Hannibal, no less, into a frumpy father and disinterested history teacher whose students openly mock his fumbling attempts to teach them. He’s lost his mojo, professionally and personally. His kids don’t look up from their consoles when he comes home, and his wife Trine (Maria Bonnevie) is gently bored by his very presence.
But Another Round has already started with a bang when a pre-opening sequence swings around a graduation drinking game in which students obliterate themselves on a race around a lake. Vinterberg’s circular firm starts and ends in the same space, winding around the lives of these four friends: Martin (Mikkelsen); sports teacher Tommy (Bo Larsen), music head Peter (Lars Ranthe) and the inciting instigator Nikolaj (Magnus Millang) as they face into another academic year.
Nikolaj is married to a rich woman, so it’s no problem for him to treat the other three to a magnificent, clubby dinner in celebration of his 40th birthday. The finest champagne, wines, and vodka are ordered to the table as he expands on a Norwegian academic’s theory that we are all born with a deficit of alcohol in our system: that topping it up (all day) will help open the mind. Winston Churchill, unsurprisingly, is mentioned frequently in this film.
At first Martin, who is driving, refuses a drink, but eventually he relents. (One of three key points in the film in which he’ll change his mind, with significant consequences.) Over the course of a liquid evening, the friends form a pact to make their own experiment with this theory, and scientifically note the results. As with everything in Another Round, alcohol consumption is accompanied by soft, warm lighting, intimate moments, laughter, fun. And their teaching improves; Martin’s wife starts to look at him with new eyes. Even Tommy musters up the interest to coach an ostracised boy to goal-scoring success.
There’s a turning point, however, and it comes during a spectacular binge which starts at Nikolaj’s house and ends up shirtless in a pub and face down in a gutter. The danger is real, and they all know it: but the push and pull of the alcohol and the good times it promises remains.
Vinterberg delivers Lindberg’s structured script in a deceptively loose way, the camera relaxing with its characters, at times bursting with the freedom that the booze promises, jumping lightly on the growing cost to everyone involved. It seems likely that audiences will take a different message from the film, depending on their own relationship and history with alcohol. Is this funny, or is this sad? Is it light entertainment, or addressing something more terrifyingly fundamental? Ordinary middle class, middle-aged men and their mid-life dwindling self-esteem don’t often get the sexy big-screen treatment, or any treatment at all. Vinterberg makes it all somehow compelling, and more than a little sobering.
Production company: Zentropa
International sales: Trust Nordisk, firstname.lastname@example.org
Producers: Sisse Gram Jorgensen, Kasper Dissing
Screenplay: Tobias Lindholm, Thomas Vinterberg
Cinematography: Sturla Brandth Grovlen
Editing:Janus Billeskov Jansen, Anne Osterud
Production design: Sabine Hviid
Music: Mikkel Maltha
Main cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Magnus Millang, Lars Ranthe, Maria Bonnevie, Helene Reingaard Neumann, Susse Wold.