It would have been all too easy to make Another Round look like a wild, Danish, middle-aged version of a frat movie. Or a highly judgmental meditation on society’s relationship to recreational drinking. So commendations to the trailer people for managing to fairly accurately convey the film’s far more finely balanced tone.
This really is a film that could only be made by mainland Europe. A British version would be uncomfortable being so sincere and intimate while an American approximation would likely find it hard to resist taking a firm, judgmental stance on its characters. But the Danes? They can knock out a film in which Hannibal Lecter tries to get his groove back via alcoholism and manage to make it sad, funny and ultimately entirely up to you how you feel about the situation. To wit…
Martin (Mikkelsen) is a middle-aged teacher who did everything right in life; good job, great wife, two non-troublesome kids. And yet he feels detached from existence. His wife and kids scarcely notice him and he’s become so insular that he can barely teach a class, to the point where his students and their parents are ganging up on him to demand he prepare them better for their upcoming exams.
After quietly breaking down at a colleague and friend’s 40th birthday, himself and three other teachers from the school decide to attempt to prove or disprove a strange hypothesis; that man was born with a blood alcohol content that is too low. So in the name of science – and of escaping a variety of personal and relationship issues – they document if their lives will improve if they maintain a 0.5 BAC throughout their weekdays.
If not for Mads’ previous working relationship with director Thomas Vinterberg, you could almost ask if he’s not a bit too ‘big’ for something like this. Not just as a recognisable international star but even in his screen presence and overall air. When he rocks up looking exactly the same as he always does there’s definitely a moment of adjustment when you remember he’s meant to be an over-the-hill sad sack teacher.
This is absolutely not a knock to Mads, praise if anything. You can sense him using every ounce of his talent to stamp out his natural charisma. On top of that the stillness and notable lack of animation in his initial scenes – which he’d normally use to imply a sinister internality – is here showing a man constantly staring into the void inside his own head, trying to hold back tears at the emptiness he sees.
The rest of the cast are equally good but with characters slightly more broadly drawn, their arcs written a bit larger. This is not to say the film is predictable. It plays the dynamic between these men and the situation they find themselves in with affection without feeling the need to pass judgement on what they’re doing.
Vinterberg manages to make this reckless experiment appear as something you can root for in the context of these men’s lives and their yearning for contentment without ever strictly encouraging it. You end up in their bubble with them, enjoying the quiet positives the drinking brings without really considering the aspects of their lives we aren’t being shown. Naturally, the party crashes to a halt eventually and it is a little disappointing that this sobering element has to come in the form of betraying, nagging wives. In a film that otherwise avoids easy answers or much in the way of cliches, this feels like a tab obvious and stale.
But to again come back to the idea of an American version of this film which it’s hard not to imagine while watching; the ending. Another Round refreshingly avoids either a trite ‘you don’t need alcohol to find fun in life’ or a total downer, worst-case scenario ending. Shocking that the director of such films as The Hunt or Festen would eschew easy answers, I know. What you’re left with is arguably a messy compromise of good and bad (though if you follow the logic of the imagery of its final shot through to its conclusion, there is a deeply pessimistic reading available to you).
What feels less open to interpretation is the film’s quiet despondency at modern living in general for men of a certain age. Once you achieve the middle-class ideal; your nice home, 2.5 kids and good job, what’s left? These four men would have imploded in a different way had the deranged drinking experiment not come up. Alcohol is simply the societally accepted vessel for release. It paints a picture of modern developed civilisation as somewhat finished and simply looking for an excuse to give up. Notice how the character with the bleakest ending is the single one with no one to anchor him and pull him out of the haze as things start to spiral (again falling into the same trap of reductive gender roles referenced earlier).
If this is all sounding a tad heavy, the film is actually quite a breezy watch. It is definitely a drama first and foremost, and it has some dark moments, but for the most part the journey it blearily takes you on is an enjoyable one. And it’s not without some – ahem – dry humour, best summed up by a scene where a student is only able to confidently talk about philosophy for an exam while under the influence.
Ultimately if you think you’d enjoy what at times feels like a gentler, older person’s answer to Skins, you could do worse than Another Round.