Dir: Thomas Vinterberg. Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Magnus Millang, Lars Ranthe. 12A, 117 mins
In its final few minutes, Another Round reaches a bacchanalian peak, as high-school teacher Martin (Mads Mikkelsen) embraces his long-suppressed love of dance. His sozzled, graduating students cheer him on from the sidelines. Droplets of beer, sprayed into the air, form a dissolute mist that Mikkelsen’s limbs cut through like machetes. His movements are taut, precise, graceful.
Much has been said – and will continue to be said – about this scene. It captures what Another Round is at heart: a heady, vibrant, funny film about Danish drinking culture and middle-aged angst. But it also speaks to the great personal pain that lies hidden within its frames. While accepting the Oscar for Best International Feature Film, director Thomas Vinterberg spoke candidly of his daughter Ida’s sudden death, four days into filming, and how it changed his perspective on the story he was telling.
That therapeutic compulsion to celebrate life, so evident in the way Mikkelsen dances through the film’s denouement, may feel at odds with the film’s focus on the self-destructive habits of those convinced they’ve wasted the best years of their life. But it only makes the whole enterprise feel more honest. Another Round is a celebration and a lament of alcohol’s foundational role in society, serving as both liberator and imprisoner. It begins with an idea Nikolaj (Magnus Millang) shares with Martin and their friends, Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen) and Peter (Lars Ranthe), who all work at the same school.
Nikolaj proposes that they put into practice a theory espoused by psychiatrist Finn Skarderud, stating that the natural blood alcohol level in humans is 0.5 per cent too low and should be rectified where possible. Sobriety, Nikolaj believes, is what’s holding his luckless comrades back from their true potential, from a state that is “more musical and open”. And, at first, they declare the experiment a rousing success, despite the indisputably terrible strategy of sneaking bottles of booze into work. Whisky is stuffed into supply closets. Vodka is covertly sipped in toilet cubicles.
Martin, especially, seems invigorated by some romantic notion that alcohol is the pathway to genius – Hemingway and Roosevelt were prolific drinkers, he tells his students. Booze, it seems, has made him a more inspiring teacher, and a better lover to his wife Anika (Maria Bonnevie). There’s always been something tantalisingly inscrutable about Mikkelsen’s expressions: a tremor of excitement that sits at the corners of his hard-set mouth, ready to twist equally into a grin or grimace. Hollywood’s exploited that particular quality, casting him as a villain in every franchise under the sun (he’s currently filming Indiana Jones 5 and famously starred in Casino Royale).
But Vinterberg knows how to showcase the very best of Mikkelsen. In 2021’s The Hunt, those slippery features made him an easy scapegoat for a town caught up in the hysteria of a child abuse scandal. Here, it makes us question to what degree Martin realises his quest is bound to fail, since hedonism is always something to be chased, never to be acquired. As expected, Another Round slips from comedy to tragedy, though Vinterberg, yearning for hope, still turns back to see some small light on the horizon.
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