I believe that a mid-life crisis is one of the biggest challenges that a person has to face in the current day and age. The morbidness, stagnancy and ennui that results from it can cause a pretty substantial dent in the mental well-being of a person. Add to that being connected with people on social media and living under the impression that everyone is doing better than you are, which adds to the anxiety even more and does no good what so ever at all. In Another Round (Druk in Danish), Thomas Vinterberg tries to explore a not so unpopular option as a way to get a grip on oneself during the midlife crisis: drinking alcohol.
Another Round follows Martin (Mads Mikkelsen) and his four co-workers and close friends, Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), Peter (Lars Ranthe), and Nikolaj (Magnus Millang) all of whom work as instructors in a gymnasium in Copenhagen and have one thing in common: they are increasingly getting wary about the monotonous nature of their lives and the absence of any happiness or excitement in it. On Nikolaj’s fortieth birthday, the four discuss a particular hypothesis formulated by Norwegian psychoanalyst Finn Skarderud where he theorized that humans are short of 0.5% less alcohol content in their body by default and maintaining a blood alcohol level of 0.5% can actually make a person more creative, relaxed and energized, among other things (While Skarderud is a real person, I have been unable to verify whether he actually proposed this hypothesis or not). They decide to test this theory, supposedly as a psychological study as a last resort to deal with the discontentment they suffer from in their professional and personal lives. From here on begins a lifestyle of sneaking in alcohol bottles and breath analyzers at work and recording observations in a journal.
But if it was just this, then it wouldn’t make for much of a film now, would it? Here is where Vinterberg’s tight script and a great execution comes into play which ensures that the film never bores you. In Another Round, the alcohol is treated as a character, a character whose morally ambiguous motives aren’t all that clear to us throughout the film. It makes people party around an entire city feeling a rush of adrenaline and dopamine while doing things that they will later regret; it makes better teachers out of people, but it also turns them into horrible spouses. This is where the film’s strength lies according to me, the fact that it neither paints alcohol-drinking as a taboo, nor does it look at it through rose-coloured shades. It shows us both the good, the bad and whatever is in between.
The alcohol turns the people who consume it into morally ambiguous characters as well, even though they might have good intentions. Martin and his three colleagues teach classes, often being quite evidently a bit inebriated, and in one scene, one of them suggests a student that he should take a drink before he takes his exams to calm his nerves, all of which if found out could seriously endanger their jobs. Whereat one point, the alcohol was the catalyst that was supposedly helping these people get a zing back to their lives, in another, it takes over the person completely and turns them into a pretty disgraceful human being, screaming and shouting at friends and family, hurting multiple people in the process and affecting relationships.
The execution from Vinterberg is very stylish, with its compact cinematography which often makes use of Mads’ emotional depth in the form of close-ups on him and a certain minimalism that reminds one constantly of Dogme 95 films, a film movement that was co-founded by Vinterberg himself. The film also uses certain visual cues quite often like breath analyzer scores, text messages and archival footage of political leaders being or appearing drunk, the latter intended as a bit of comic relief.
Another Round works perfectly as a tragicomedy, as it switches effortlessly between the two moods or genres with the help of some wild twists. There’s a lot of anger that was evident in the film, which might be stemming from Vinterberg’s own mind as the director, surely still grieving, tries to find his footing in an unpredictable world without his daughter Ida, to whom this film is dedicated, who died last year in a car accident at the age of 19.
Mikkelsen gives what is easily his best performance that I have seen since his last collaboration with Vinterberg in the terrific The Hunt (2012). His acting range is at full display in the very layered character of Martin, to the extent that he also performs a climactic dance (which is my favourite 2020 cinematic moment). He is supported by an equally adept cast of Larsen, Ranthe and Millang. The women in this film are very minute supporting characters who don’t contribute much to the plot, unfortunately.
But in the end, Another Round isn’t just a cynical take on alcoholism. The film is hopeful and tells people to embrace and care for the people around them, their friends and loved ones, to find solace in them and to understand that these people are all that counts, whether or not they are having a pint of beer every day. For a change, it was also nice to not see toxic masculinity dominate a film that predominantly depicts male friendship.
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