'Another Round' ('Druk'): Film Review | TIFF 2020

Another Round
Henrik Ohsten
Intoxicating.

Mads Mikkelsen plays a high-school teacher beginning a reckless experiment with alcohol in 'The Hunt' director Thomas Vinterberg's Danish drama.

Eight years after making the Oscar-nominated The Hunt together, Mads Mikkelsen and writer-director Thomas Vinterberg have reunited for Another Round, a tragicomic portrait of midlife crisis and alcohol abuse. Since their previous collaboration, both director and star have mostly worked on bigger international features, but they are back on comfortable home ground here with a modestly scaled Danish-language production full of familiar faces. Mikkelsen plays a high-school history teacher hoping to revitalize his dreary job and stale marriage by staying secretly drunk all day, a risky experiment which leaves this former James Bond villain both shaken and stirred.

Another Round is sweeter, lighter and more conventional than most of Vinterberg's past work, eschewing the bleak social commentary that underscored films like The Celebration, Submarino and The Hunt. Even so, it makes for an appealing ensemble piece overall, as well as a great vehicle for Mikkelsen's vulpine beauty and nimble dance moves. For anyone who has ever craved seeing this former gymnast doing his finest Gene Kelly impersonation to pounding Europop, your dream movie has finally arrived.

Selected for the Cannes 2020 Label, Another Round world premieres in Toronto this weekend, ahead of its competition slot in San Sebastian later this month, with further festival screenings booked for Bergen and London in October. It also opens in Danish theaters from Sept 24. Commercial potential should be pretty healthy based on its bittersweet comic charms, Vinterberg's track record and Mikkelsen's global marquee appeal. The Samuel Goldwyn Company have signed up U.S. rights.

Life seems to have lost its sparkle for 50-ish teacher Martin (Mikkelsen) and his co-workers Tommy (Vinterberg veteran Thomas Bo Larsen), Peter (Lars Ranthe) and Nikolaj (Magnus Millang). On the surface, these old drinking buddies appear to be living some version of the Danish Dream with their respectable jobs, outwardly happy families and comfortable homes in handsome coastal suburbs. But all four are also inwardly dissatisfied, especially Martin, whose increasingly detached manner has made him a joke to his students, invisible to his own children and a virtual stranger to his wife Trine (Maria Bonnevie).

Seeking to break out from his life of quiet desperation, the teetotal Martin begins drinking again at a boisterous birthday meal with his three friends. After confessing their shared mid-life frustrations, the group agree to an audacious secret plan inspired by Norwegian psychologist Finn Skarderud’s contentious theory that most people go through life with too little alcohol in their bloodstream. Citing historical examples of high-achieving drunks, from Winston Churchill to Ernest Hemingway, the foursome make a pact to remain mildly drunk all day, at work and home alike, monitoring and recording the effects.

Initially, this extreme drinking game has a positive effect. Injecting a joyous new energy into the classroom, all four teachers succeed in galvanizing their students with more confidence and enthusiasm than usual, basking in reflected glory like some kind of Drunk Poets Society. Martin seems especially transformed, temporarily reviving his dormant marriage and stalled sex life. In one superbly choreographed visual tableau, he spins around the school staff room like a lightly inebriated Fred Astaire. But of course, predictably, all this intoxication comes at a steep price. The road of excess does not lead to the palace of wisdom here but to painful revelations, broken marriages, ruined careers, spiraling addictions and worse.

Vinterberg and his regular co-writer Tobias Lindholm originally conceived Another Round as a “celebration” of alcohol. Inevitably, during the writing process, they arrived at a more nuanced picture, with boozy excess depicted as both a liberating and destructive force. While this is arguably the more dramatically necessary and realistic decision, it is also feels like the safer, less imaginative option. A bolder director, such as Vinterberg's long-time friend and collaborator Lars Von Trier, might have enjoyed exploring further the subversive premise that alcohol makes everything better instead of surrendering so soon to cautionary moralizing.

Even so, Another Round succeeds in capturing some of the gleefully anarchic euphoria of being merrily drunk in the company of good friends. In this spirit, Vinterberg and his cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grovlen fill the canvas with bright summer colors, fuzzy lens flare and whirling hand-held camerawork. Playful use of on-screen text and archive montages of drunken world leaders reinforces this generally light, irreverent tone. Even the film's darkest plot twist, involving a death and funeral, is stylishly conveyed in a concise montage of wordless shots. Patriotic songs performed by the youthful support cast also serve as a recurring, uplifting motif. In his press notes, Vinterberg describes the film as “a tribute to life” and “reclaiming of the irrational wisdom that casts off all anxious common sense.”

Another Round ultimately has little fresh or profound to say about intoxication and addiction, but it is an engaging tribute to friendship, family and bacchanalian hedonism in moderation. Incidentally, Skarderud later disowned his controversial claims about blood alcohol levels, insisting they had been taken out of context. Vinterberg ends the film with a quietly moving dedication to his 19-year-old daughter Ida, who was originally cast in a small role but died in a road accident before shooting began.

Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (Special Presentations)
Production Companies: Zentropa Entertainments, Film i Vast, Zentropa Sweden, Topkapi Films
Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Magnus Millang, Lars Ranthe, Maria Bonnevie
Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Screenwriters: Thomas Vinterberg, Tobias Lindholm
Cinematographer: Sturla Brandth Grovlen
Editors: Anne Osterud, Janus Billeskov Jansen
Producers Sisse Graum Jorgensen, Kasper Dissing
Sales company: TrustNordisk
116 minutes