Here in Scandinavia there is a great deal of alcohol consumption amongst teenagers and youths. And in Denmark in particular, my neighboring country, the youngsters drink the most amount of alcohol in all of Europe, most likely due to the drinking age only being 16. In Sweden it’s as high as 18 to drink but you have to be as old as 20 to actually legally buy alcohol in the liquor monopoly store, so it’s not uncommon for Swedish teenagers to travel over to Denmark simply to buy alcohol. Alcohol has always been a form of stigma in society and moralists often point to the purely negative aspects it has. To deny the negative consequences of alcohol is certainly a fool’s errand, but to flat out deny any positive connotations is flat out ridiculous. My experiences with alcohol have only been positive, and have actually helped me feel better at times, believe it or not. And whilst Thomas Vinterberg’s latest film Another Round (Druk) doesn’t cater to either side, it definitely isn’t your moralizing middle school teacher who warns you of the dangers of alcoholic liquid.
Mads Mikkelsen plays a high school teacher who, in the beginning of the film, is clearly suffering from a case of depression. He isn’t engaged in his job or his students, his family seems indifferent toward him and he basically thinks he’s wasted his life. His fellow teacher friends, Nikolaj (Magnus Malling), Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen) and Peter (Lars Ranthe) all reveal to feel the same when celebrating Nikolaj’s fortieth birthday at a restaurant. Nikolaj then shares a theory proposed by Norwegian psychiatrist Finn Skårderud that having a blood alcohol content at 0.05% will make people more open, courageous and happier. Mikkelsen decides to try this out, with the others joining him soon. They decide to make this an experiment to try out Skårderud’s theory. It seems to work, with them all managing to engage with their students and families easier, but they must be careful to not descend into the realm of alcoholism.
The last time Vinterberg and Mikkelsen worked together was the masterful yet devastating drama The Hunt from 2012. Just like in Another Round, Mikkelsen plays a teacher yet in a much different and significantly darker subtext, dealing with issues like pedophilia and the meaning of truth and justice. It is in equal parts brilliant and also frustrating to watch. Now, both Vinterberg and Mikkelsen are older (not by a huge margin, but now they’re firmly middle-aged) and seem to have a different goal in mind: to enjoy themselves while they still have time left on this earth. The project did actually start life as a broad yet simple comedy and alcoholism but radically changed gears four days into filming when Vinterberg’s daughter was tragically killed in a car accident. Vinterberg decided the film couldn’t be just about drinking, and that it had to be about the reawakening of life.
Mikkelsen is in fine form here, delivering yet another top-notch performance much like he did in The Hunt, and let’s face it, every movie he’s in. He never lets his performance become one note or false. In the beginning he projects so much of his character’s almost mental imprisonment of depression and self-loathing by doing very little, and that is gold worth in a film actor, especially one as good as Mads. But throughout the film we follow his journey to finally break free from this prison of the mind and lose himself in his moment of time. After a particularly sad moment towards the end of the film, the gang decide to join their drinking students and let loose. The last image of Mikkelsen jumping into the harbor waters leaves a lasting impact upon the memory. He can now fly free as a bird, with earthly needs no longer of any concern.
The film functions in some ways much like Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru, another life-affirming film that thankfully avoids the clichés and troupes of such art. The film entertains and contains as many dramatic moments as it does funny ones. My only criticism would be that in some ways the shooting style feels slightly unremarkable, with the majority of it being made through the lens of handheld and coverage, but when the writing and acting is this good it’s quite hard to complain frankly. And the film brings a genuinely positive and thought-provoking message that is actually quite useful, especially after a year as dreadful and relentless as 2020. When all four main characters are sitting on a bench after considerable drinking watching their students, Peter points out that most of their students will forget about them the minute they graduate. So maybe they didn’t exist, but at least they lived.