Four teachers test a theory that humans actually need a constant supply of alcohol in their blood in this Oscar-shortlisted Danish drama.
Even the most joyous days and nights spent sipping your favourite drink can have their memory tainted by a hangover. Imbibe too much, and there's a kicker just waiting to pulsate through your brain and punish your body when all that alcohol inevitably starts to wear off. For much of Another Round, four Copenhagen school teachers try to avoid this feeling. The film they're in doesn't, though. It lays bare the ups and downs of knocking back boozy beverages, and it also serves up a finale that's a sight to behold. Without sashaying into spoiler territory, the feature's last moments are a thing of sublime beauty. Some movies end in a WTF, "what were they thinking?" kind of way — for a recent example, see Wild Mountain Thyme — but this Oscar-shortlisted Danish film comes to a conclusion with a big and bold showstopper that's also a piece of bittersweet perfection. The picture's highest-profile star, Mads Mikkelsen (Arctic), is involved. His pre-acting background as an acrobat and dancer comes in handy, too. Unsurprisingly, the substances that flow freely throughout the feature remain prominent. And, so does the canny and candid awareness that life's highs and lows just keep spilling, plus the just-as-shrewd understanding that the line between self-sabotage and self-release is as thin as a slice of lemon garnishing a cocktail.
That's how Another Round wraps up, in one the many masterstrokes splashed onto the screen by writer/director Thomas Vinterberg (Kursk)) and his co-scribe Tobias Lindholm (A War). The film's unforgettable finale also expertly capitalises upon a minor plot detail that viewers haven't realised had such significance until then, and that couldn't typify this excellent effort's layered approach any better. But, ending with a bang isn't the movie's only achievement. In fact, it's full of them. The picture's savvy choices start with its premise, which sees the quiet and reserved Martin (Mikkelsen) and his fellow educators Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen, Veni Vidi Vici), Peter (Lars Ranthe, Warrior) and Nikolaj (Magnus Millang, The Commune) all decide to put an out-there theory to the test. Motivated by real-life Norwegian psychiatrist Finn Skårderud, they conduct an experiment that involves being permanently sauced. Skårderud has hypothesised that humans are born with a blood alcohol deficit of 0.05 percent, so, with some cajoling needed on Martin's part, the quartet work that idea into their daily lives. Ground rules are established, and the shots, sneaky sips and all-hours drinking swiftly begins.
Another Round's concept might initially seem like a gimmick. Contending that constantly being under the influence of alcohol is better for humans than sobriety sounds like something that a teenager might mix up, after all. And yet, that premise is never treated as a goofy stunt by Vinterberg, Lindholm and their cast (even if it's easy to imagine how the sure-to-happen US remake will handle the situation). Instead, Another Round uses its underlying idea to uncork a wealth of sharp and raw insights into men, midlife malaise and group behaviour. It pours out more than a few observations on the weight of societal expectations, and the male tendency to internalise rather than express one's feelings as well. These notions are evident when Martin and his pals start drinking to commence their days and to get through them, but they only get more potent as the film goes on. As the four teachers commit to doing whatever they need to maintain their sloshed state, it doesn't take long for them to veer away from their own guidelines. Also quick and easy: straying away from the high-minded notion that they're getting drunk in the name of science and not just because they're each unhappy with their lives in their own ways.
Whether you're a keen social drinker or you stay away from the hard stuff completely, Another Round doesn't trade in unrealistic revelations — because we all know that no amount of alcohol, or lack of it, can ever solve all of life's problems. But the film approaches its subject with equally clear, playful and melancholy eyes, especially where Martin is concerned. Before his friends suggest non-stop day-drinking, he's in a rut. When he asks his wife Anika (Maria Bonnevie, Becoming Astrid) if he's boring, it's obvious that she wants to say yes. At school, his students are so worried about his absence of enthusiasm that they tell him they think his bland teaching could cost them marks in their exams. Then, one drop at a time, he starts proving Skårderud's theory. He's creative, confident and courageous, and feels more like himself. It takes an immense amount of skill on Vinterberg's part to convey that change, ground it in reality and never lose sight of the grim repercussions of overindulging. As aided by the movie's naturalistic colour scheme and graceful framing, it takes just as much to ensure the entire film remains frank, unflinching and yet also warm and sometimes humorous.
One of Denmark's best directors, Vinterberg was always going to rise to the challenge. Earning the same description in his own field, the always-excellent Mikkelsen was always going to do the same. They make an exceptional pair; when they last teamed up for 2012's The Hunt, the difficult drama about a teacher accused of acting inappropriately with one of his kindergarten students was one of the cinematic highlights of that year. As everything from Festen to Far From the Madding Crowd have also shown, Vinterberg consistently casts his films well, and Mikkelsen is in top-notch company here. Still, Another Round needs its leading man's versatility, and his ability to flit between stoicism, desperation, quiet despondency and charming swagger in particular. There's a reason that, thanks to the likes of Casino Royale, A Royal Affair, Hannibal, Doctor Strange and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Mikkelsen has become one of film and television's most engaging performers — and Another Round will have you saying cheers to that, and to its astute tragicomic look at coping with mundane lives and the realities of getting older in an extreme fashion.