Writer-director Thomas Vinterberg reteams with The Hunt star Mads Mikkelsen for Another Round, a boozy reflection on middle-aged boredom and ennui.
Martin (Mikkelsen) is not a fulfilled man.
History teacher at an elite high-school, he is perhaps best described, in the cautious words of one student, as “diffident”. His classes are rote, obscure and un-engaging. His wife Trine (Marie Bonnevie) seems to have made her peace with his emotional absence., his joylessness.
Then a friend and colleague, psychology teacher Nikolaj (Magnus Millang), suggests a radical experiment: an in-the-field test of Norweigan scientist Finn Skårderud’s hypothesis that humans are born with a blood alcohol level that’s .05% too low for optimal functioning.
Martin is intrigued, as are fellow friends-colleagues Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), PE teacher, and Peter (Lars Ranthe), conductor for the student choir. After all, it’s not like they’ve got anything else going on.
The film depicts four men, all unfulfilled but unable to admit or articulate it, who are looking for a reason to change something. Initially there are rules – an optimal BAC; no drinking after 8pm; no drinking on weekends – but these gradually fall by the wayside as the experiment evolves.
When Martin, having brought a quart of vodka with him to school, takes a slug in a toilet cubicle, it feels genuinely taboo; the camera unfocusing then refocusing on his self-astounded face. Initially there are rules – an optimal BAC; no drinking after 8pm; no drinking on weekends – but these gradually fall by the wayside as the experiment evolves.
What starts as harmless, macho, silly fun, possibly beneficial even – Martin’s lectures certainly get more inspired, as does Tommy and Peter’s couching – become increasingly consequential as the debris begins to pile up – messed sheets; bloodied brows; and the closest I’ve seen to someone walking into their own grave, metaphorically speaking.
Paralleling the hollowness of our protagonists’ lives with the juvenile, alcohol-fuelled exploits of their students, Vinterberg suggests that Denmark’s drinking culture is one that extends across the generations.1.
The idyllic kick-arounds can’t last indefinitely; fairly soon things get pretty despairing. Sturla Brandth Grøvlen, whose recent work on Shirley made a definite impression, gives the impression of an endless summer, a dream of youth, and Janus Billeskov Jansen provides heavenly choirs enough to convince the most hardened skeptic that all is well with the world.
Mikkelsen’s sheer refinement, his elegance and dance training, almost make a case for the “emancipating psychological effects” – his liberated dance to Scarlet Pleasure’s “What A Life” is a gift – but Another Round ultimately leaves it up to the audience as to the true give and take.
For a film that essentially shares its premise with a Mitchell & Webb sketch, Another Round has buried itself in my memory; enough so, perhaps, that my next drink might have to be a double, ironically speaking.