Excessive drinking and existential angst, two characteristics of Danish life—according to the Danes—are stirred and mixed well in award-winning Danish director Thomas Vinterberg’s latest film. Calamitous binge-drinking high school students (“Druk” means “binge drinking” in Danish) bookend “Another Round,” but at its heart it’s the story of four middle-aged teachers—and an experiment in alcohol consumption.
Martin (Mads Mikkelson, of international fame for his portrayal of Hannibal Lector in the NBC TV series) is the sorriest of the lot. He’s a shadow of a man, emptied-out, going through the motions, boring to his wife, his family, his students, and himself. He meets the other three for a 40th birthday dinner for one of them, Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), who lives alone with an aged dog he has to help pee, an uninspired and uninspiring coach who reads the paper while his team goes through routine drills. Nicolaj (Magnus Millang) and Peter (Lars Ranthe)—all four men are notable Danish actors—round out the underachieving quartet.
To spice up and bring new meaning to their lives, they explore the theory of a compatriot, Finn Skårderud, that humans are born with an insufficient blood alcohol level of .05%.
To spice up and bring new meaning to their lives, they explore the theory of a compatriot, Finn Skårderud, that humans are born with an insufficient blood alcohol level of .05% (Skårderud is real and this unconventional theory is, in fact, one of his), and decide they need to boost it. One might expect the usual arc of films about alcoholism to follow. “The Lost Weekend” (1946) with Ray Milland, “Days of Wine and Roses” (1962) with Jack Lemmon, “Leaving Las Vegas” (1995) with Nicolas Cage, all of which won Oscars for the leading men, emphasize the inevitable downward trajectory and self-destruction of drink. Career and boozing are not compatible; drink takes one off the normal traffic lanes to success and destroys personal relationships. Not so in “Another Round,” or at least not so for every character.
The effects of drinking are mostly positive for the four teachers, especially in “Part 2” of the film, as it’s labeled on-screen. Martin becomes an electrifying history teacher, Tommy coaches a bullied child to victory and a certain kind of bonding. Nicolaj helps a student with anxiety attacks by suggesting he have a drink or two before his oral exam, and Peter’s choral ensemble learns to sing with “soul.” All because the four have put more alcohol in their lives and their bloodstreams—as onscreen breathalyzer reports indicate.
In “Part 3,” as the men decide to bring their drinking to “ignition,” yet a higher blood alcohol level, the trajectories of the four diverge. At least two are happier and have improved their lives. Martin’s is the central, and more layered story, a complexity that shouldn’t be surprising, given Vinterberg’s credentials as one of the founders of Dogma 95, which introduced new premises into filmmaking and resulted in a number of remarkable films, including his own magnificent and dark “Celebration” (1998). The final scene in “Another Round,” which includes a Bollywood-style dance, is enigmatic, supportive of diametrically opposed interpretations.
Women and institutions play minor, stereotyped roles. There are two long-suffering—and seldom-on-screen—wives. The school administration that holds group meetings to examine the problems of alcohol in the school is faceless and ineffective, there only to introduce the threat that the men will be found out. The lack of female and outside support (or interference, as one might alternately view it) is a device to avoid the standard therapeutic approach to alcoholism, and to focus on the men taking responsibility for solving their own problems—a call-out to Danish existentialist philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, whose quotations open the film and who, not by accident, is the topic of the anxious student’s oral exam.
It’s the complexity of “Another Round” (which originated as Vinterberg’s film school short in 1993) and its rejection of the preachy demonization of excessive drinking that make it an interesting and entertaining film. It’s often labeled a “comedy.” Maybe not.
Stars: ★★★1/2 (out of 4 stars)
Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Magnus Millang, Lars Ranthe
Other Awards: Nominated for Best Foreign Language Picture, Golden Globes, and 34 other nominations and 29 wins to date
Country: Denmark, Sweden, Netherlands
Language: Danish and Swedish, subtitled in English
Runtime: 117 minutes
Another Round (“Druk”)
Availability: Widely available for rent or purchase, for example, Amazon Prime, Google Play, Fandango Now; see JustWatch here.