We are what we drink. Throughout history, humans have celebrated and commiserated with the help of copious amounts of alcohol, and once we get past that magic line into tipsy and then drunk, we become different people. But what if those booze-fuelled spirits were who we were meant to be?
Thomas Vinterberg’s remarkable film Another Round follows the life of four teachers in a Copenhagen school who decide to study the effects of alcohol on their life as a whole. The catalyst for this is a breakdown by Martin (Mads Mikkelsen) after he drinks at a meal, saying that he has lost himself, and in the process, his wife and children – he lives with them, but they barely interact. His class also tell him that he seems withdrawn, and with exams coming up, they are concerned they’re going to fail.
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Martin and his friends Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), Peter (Lars Ranthe), and Nikolaj (Magnus Milling) look at a theory by Norwegian psychologist Finn Skårderud that states that the human blood alcohol level is 0.05% too low and begin to drink in the morning to raise this and see what effects it has. Of course, they throw themselves into their work and they soon see the positive results; Martin’s class in particular love the new, more fun teacher, and there is a visible improvement in his connection with his wife and children. But then the group decide to begin binge drinking, and from that, the experiment takes a turn for the worse.
Another Round is extremely difficult to put in a box. That’s a good thing. You might feel it’s primarily a drama, but there is an edge of black humour that runs down the centre of the whole thing, from Nikolaj wetting the bed just like his toddler son to Peter refusing to give one of his football players a drink from his bottle because it has vodka in it. What strengthens the film’s refusal to be categorised is the way it’s presented in a very naturalistic style, from the acting to the starkly real look of the film to the sparse musical score, with it coming across almost as a docudrama.
The picture primarily follows Mikkelsen’s Martin, which gives him the opportunity to present a masterclass in acting. At times he seems lost and you can see this in his eyes, and then he’ll come alive and his eyes will fire up. His performance feels remarkably restrained for the most part, which helps with the contrast when he comes out of his shell and is just absolutely magnetic.
Another Round has its roots in the Danish culture of drinking, which it displays in a splendid opening sequence shot like a life-affirming sports movie, where teenagers have to carry a crate of beer, stopping at set points to drink, with the ones who cross the finish line with an empty crate the winners. Denmark has the highest amount of heavy drinking in the EU and their youths drink double what most of the other countries consume, with the legal drinking age being 16. It’s clear Vinterberg’s film is looking at this, and what feels like a sense of pride, but there is nuance.
The picture is not moralising, it’s asking questions but it’s not providing you with answers. This is not something that usually happens in mainstream cinema, and it can feel surprisingly unnatural at times, which is where the film often becomes the most fascinating because it has you examining your own opinions and prejudices. It invites you to look under the microscope at your own life, and perhaps how you would change if you joined the experiment, which is undoubtedly why it becomes a difficult lens to stare into.
But on a larger scale, the film is about an awakening in life in general; alcohol is merely a catalyst. It’s no accident that the meal where Martin initially admits his fears is a 40th birthday party (for Nikolaj), so it immediately posits this as men coming into their middle ages, and of course this plays into thoughts about the midlife crisis, and how people react when they reach these ages we are endlessly told are special milestones. Life begins at forty, so go and buy a sports car – this instantly tells you the world of privilege these ideas come from.
Notably, the film itself was inspired by a tragedy that caused Vinterberg to make the film more about life itself than just alcohol. After helping him with the idea, the director’s daughter Ida, who was set to act in the film (it’s her classmates you see in the picture) was killed in a car accident. Vinterberg subsequently set the film up as being more life-affirming, more of a celebration of life and what you do with it, because it’s on such a knife-edge, and it can go in an instant.
Perhaps because of the lack of traditional moralising, of being explicit in how we should feel about the film, Another Round has a strange kind of opaqueness to it. Sort of like a veneer. Occasionally it feels difficult to penetrate emotionally, again, probably because of the naturalistic style Vinterberg uses, so you’re forced to use your own reflection as an example because as close as you get to the lives of Martin and his friends, there’s still that barrier there.
Another Round was shot on an Arri Alexa digital film camera at the 2.00:1 aspect ratio, and as you would imagine for a brand new film, Studiocanal‘s transfer captures the natural cinematography of Sturla Brandth Grøvlen impeccably, coming from a 2K digital intermediate. 5.1 and 2.0 options are given for the audio and it’s wonderfully clear and immersive, especially during the opening and closing binge drinking sequences. If you know what chaos a drinking party can be, you have a general idea of how this sounds.
In terms of extras, there is only one: a short but interesting interview with Vinterberg and Mikkelsen at last year’s Cannes film festival that runs around 13 minutes. It would have been nicer to have more extras, perhaps a commentary, but it’s understandable given the tragedy connected to the film and also Vinterberg wanting it to stand by itself in terms of interpretation.
Another Round is a fantastic film headed by a typically impressive performance by Mikkelsen, although to be fair all of the actors are top grade. The lack of traditional answers in the film is a huge plus in its column, and even with that veneer I recommend stretching it as far as you can go to look at yourself; who knows, you may even break it. Of course, make sure you pour yourself a drink first.
Another Round is out now on EST, and on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital on 27th September from Studiocanal.