The Hunt’s Thomas Vinterberg and Mads Mikkelsen reteam for another thought-provoking drama.
(This review is part of our coverage of the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival.)
Thomas Vinterberg’s latest drama, Another Round, opens with a familiar buzz for anyone who has indulged in one too many drinks. Young and carefree, a group of Danish high school seniors play a lively lakeside drinking game and later cause mischief during a night on the town. This raucous display of drunken behavior foreshadows Another Round’s probing exploration of alcohol’s role in our lives. But the kids aren’t the only ones getting drunk, as Vinterberg shifts the focus to a more meaningful adult perspective.
Indeed, Another Round is decidedly not an outrageous teen comedy. Instead, it’s the story of Martin (Mads Mikkelsen) a middle-aged man juggling his responsibilities as a history teacher, husband, and father. Formerly excelling in all three roles, he gets a wake-up call one day when his students stage an intervention due to his lacklustre teaching. Meanwhile, he begins to realize that his marriage has lost its spark.
In essence, he is going through a midlife crisis and wants to remedy the situation. As he struggles to find solutions, a bizarre one arises when he attends a 40th birthday dinner with three other colleagues. One of them proposes an experiment, based on a philosopher’s hypothesis that humans naturally have a deficit of 0.05% in their blood alcohol level. The belief is that, if they drink to maintain this minimum level, their social and professional lives will be greatly improved.
After some hesitation, Martin agrees to the pact, which includes a stipulation that they cannot drink after 8 p.m. or on weekends. Miraculously, it works, as all four friends feel reinvigorated within their daily lives. But things soon get complicated when they decide to raise the stakes by gradually increasing their target blood alcohol level.
You’ve probably heard the term “food porn” but have you heard of “drink porn”? That’s what Vinterberg accomplishes here, putting us into the men’s intoxicated headspace from the pivotal birthday dinner scene. As they partake in an exquisite array of liquid refreshment, the visuals and sound effects are truly enticing. From the subtle fizzing of the champagne, to the vibrant color of the draught beer, to the vivid descriptions of the aged wines, it’s enough to make a non-drinker want to risk it all.
And that’s what happens to former teetotaller Martin, embarking on a new lifestyle that yields fascinating character development. In another fruitful actor-director collaboration Mikkelsen and Vinterberg, that personal growth is remarkably conveyed. The newfound enthusiasm in the classroom is reminiscent of beloved cinematic teachers like Dead Poets Society’s John Keating, while his anxieties recall Mikkelsen’s own tormented work in The Hunt.
Further enhancing Mikkelsen’s tour de performance is the beautifully nuanced filmmaking throughout. Cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen favors shadows and darkness in the more vulnerable moments. Meanwhile, the screenplay gets richer by the minute, as the emotional roller coaster of their alcohol-induced haze ironically helps the men see themselves more clearly.
Indeed, though Another Round is primarily an individual character study, the plot seamlessly incorporates the rest of the main cast. And Thomas Bo Larsen, Lars Ranthe and Magnus Millang are terrific as they portray how their character’s lives are uniquely affected. Numerous memorable scenes show both the positive and negative impact of the men’s changing behavior and outlook on themselves and the people around them.
Overall, Vinterberg strikes a pitch-perfect tonal balance between the euphoria and misery of alcoholism, therefore avoiding easy moralizations. Sprinkled with quotes from Danish philosopher Søren Aabye Kierkegaard, he also grounds the film in thoughtful existentialism. At once sobering and liberating, Another Round is a sincere reflection on aging, friendship, and life itself.