Each Thomas Vinterberg film is a gentle provocation. The Danish auteur’s most well-known films — the “son accuses his father of pedophilia” comedy Festen (1998) and the “wrongly accused of pedophilia” drama The Hunt (2012) — respectively sparked the Dogme 95 filmmaking movement, and retooled its punky handheld technique for a more refined general audience that appreciates a festival prizewinner. In Vinterberg’s latest, the raucous Another Round (Druk), four fuddy-duddy high school teachers under threat of obsolescence decide to live their lives under the philosophy of Norwegian author Finn Skårderud, who stated that humans are born with a blood alcohol level 0.05% too low. So, the friends decide to get tanked on the daily. This premise could be the stuff of a mid-00s Owen Wilson/Vince Vaughn vehicle, and crowd-pleasing aside, Another Round is a high-concept character piece that dips its toes into national themes, but never long enough to put off the international market it’s clearly geared towards.
With a swiftness of pace, Another Round leaps through a number of situational comedy set-pieces: the lads have to teach while drunk, the lads have to parent while drunk, the lads have to go shopping while drunk, etc. The four main actors, among them Mads Mikkelsen and Lars Ranthe, are game. Thomas Bo Larsen, a Vinterberg regular with a hang-dog face that makes any outfit looks several sizes too big, is sweet as Tommy, a life-long bachelor P.E. teacher. The gentleness with which he encourages the children to work together as a team tugs the heartstrings, while the way his hand leaps toward any freshly poured drink reveals his psyche.
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Vinterberg captures this in characteristic handheld style which, meticulously blocked for visceral effect, is almost too salubrious. It looks at people the same way during frenetic drinking scenes as it does when they walk the dull school corridors. Vinterberg doesn’t see the joy of different alcohol: the rich colors of wine, the clarity of a spirit, the plump fizz in a beer. The most indelible images of cinematic binge drinking may be in two 1980s cult films: Withnail & I and Barfly. Both of these films find romance in the hopeless dead-end intrachtability of serious drinking. “Romance” might not be a word we always want to apply to booze, but the longing to reach a state of equilibrium is the irreplaceable essence of alcohol, and it’s irresponsible not to depict it.
Nicolas Cage won an Oscar for his performance in Mike Figgis’ Leaving Las Vegas, which saw the famously goofy actor expressing drunkenness as a silent movie gesture. Mikkelsen also reaches to the past, drinking morning vodka while enjoying classical music, with Vinterberg shooting him from below in rapture. The director also relies on music to get his buzz on, as Another Round’s grandest set piece has the boys getting off their tits to The Meters’ classic “Cissy Strut,” drinking fabulous cocktails from a glass with golf-ball sized ice cubes inside. As the bookish Martin, who sends students to sleep but lights up the room with a few drinks in him, Mikkelsen gives an urtyp Mads performance, a low-simmering tension contrasting with a maniachal, bodily release that is sexy and creepy in equal measure. If his years playing Hannibal Lecter on NBC taught us anything, it’s that Mikkelsen is an actor who can project his palate onto an audience. Nonetheless, Martin’s alcohol dependency is depicted as a switch that he can flick on or off at will. You can see the screenwriting tools maneuvering characters, and Vinterberg hiding behind the notion that “alcohol makes you do crazy things.
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Indeed, the director harkens back to his Brechtian roots with black title cards situating the viewer into the characters’ blood alcohol levels, and archival interruptions showing global politicians clearly sozzled on the world stage. References to great drinkers like Ernest Hemingway and Winston Churchill are enough to fool the viewer into thinking Another Round tackles capital-A Alcohol. Rather, the sterile way that these Danes approach drinking recalls another sauce, Orson Welles, whose famous speech in The Third Man feels apt: “In Italy… they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love — they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”
Suddenly, Another Round has cruised two thirds into its run-time, and out of nowhere the characters have to reckon with the consequences of their alcoholism. At this point, Vinterberg’s film begins to feel like a lost weekend, evidenced by stale sermonizing that may feel uplifting for the “Covid’s over and Biden won” crowd. And like so much of Another Round, a final act dance by Mikkelsen feels like a slovenly swing of the arm, a gesture towards nothing.
Ben Flanagan (@manlikeflan) is a film critic and programmer based in London.