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TIFF 2020 Review: Another Round – “A tragic comedy”

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Image courtesy of TIFF

There is a Norwegian psychologist, Finn Skårderud, who claims that humans are born with a blood alcohol level that is 0.05% too low.  He suggests that maintaining a low level of alcohol use causes you to become more poised, more relaxed, more courageous.  Even greats like Churchill and Hemingway achieved some of their biggest accomplishments under the influence.  A tribute, as the director calls it, of this liquid courage, alcohol, is the subject of Thomas Vinterberg‘s latest film, Another Round.

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We meet four teachers, Martin (Mads Mikkelsen), Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), Peter (Lars Ranthe) and Nikolaj (Magnus Millang).  These middle-aged men are stuck in the monotony of the day to day.  It shows on their faces, their body language, and also in the expressions of boredom and disinterest of the high school students they are meant to be instructing.  Martin’s students even lodge a complaint, concerned they won’t pass their exams for entry into university.  The men’s melancholy is even affecting their home lives.  “Have I become boring?” Martin asks his wife.  She hesitates before replying that he is not the man she once knew.

Then one night the four men go to dinner to celebrate Nikolaj’s fortieth birthday.  In trying to convince Martin to join them for drinks, Nikolaj mentions Skårderud’s theory, and they all agree they could use a little push to enjoy their lives a little more, maybe even succeed where they haven’t before.  Their night predictably gets out of hand, but they then put forward the rules – no drinking after 8pm, or on weekends.  A blood alcohol level of 0.05% is to be maintained.  They even start to write a scientific paper, treating their drinking and the recorded effects as an experiment.

They have a drink before breakfast and take their booze to work, hidden in water bottles or in desk drawers.  To their own surprise they become the teachers you always wish you had in school – engaging, animated, fun.  Their students are elated.  They become better partners and parents.  Martin’s marriage improves.  But this is Vinterberg.  And the last time he and Mikkelsen collaborated was for 2012’s The Hunt.  An excellent film, however, if you know it, you’ll know to expect things to get pretty dark here as well. But together Mikkelsen and Vinterberg allow Another Round to find its stride.

Another Round plays as a cautionary tale.  If Vinterberg describes this as a celebration of alcohol it is also a portrait of the damage it can cause.  The film runs through every spectrum of emotion as its subjects revel in the joy of their newfound, enriched lives and then, just like their palpably painful hangovers, they crash into stark reality.  The pace of the film changes in order to match the stage of their experiment and it’s an effective tool to bring the audience along on this emotional roller coaster.  Their drinking scenes often starting bright and steady devolve to blurry, handheld camerawork as their blood alcohol levels, displayed with levity on screen, escalate.

Mads Mikkelsen anchors an incredible cast here who always seems game for whatever drunk antics they need to perform (there are even some remarkable Mikkelsen dance moves that I may have watched more than once). Together they are a charismatic and dynamic team that brings this film to life, even in its darkest moments, and things do get pretty bleak.  Vinterberg and co-writer Tobias Lindholm don’t hold back in exploring the good, the bad and the ugly, and rightly so.  While alcohol may be freeing for some, it also traps others.

Another Round may be best described as a tragic comedy, but it is also a thought-provoking commentary on the role alcohol plays in our society.  Vinterberg even inserts pictures and video of inebriated world leaders to drive home the point.  Alcohol is everywhere.  Whether we fall victim to its false promises, enjoy its liberation or remove it completely from our lives depends on many factors, and Vinterberg’s film never expresses judgement.  Another Round, perhaps initially conceived as a ‘celebration’ of alcohol is more nuanced than that, becoming also a celebration of friendship and a reminder to live life to its fullest.  Cheers to that.

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