There was a time in my life when I was obsessed with Danish cinema; it began in the late 1990s, when the Dogme 95 movement began, but it lasted well beyond that minimalist exercise. There was something comfortably nihilistic and darkly humorous in the works of many a filmmaker, including Thomas Vinterberg, whose 1998 film The Celebration was considered Dogme #1 and was also Denmark’s official Oscar contender for Best Foreign Language that year. Interestingly, Dogme #28 was a 2002 film called Open Hearts, directed by Susanne Bier and starring one Mads Mikkelsen, who had also worked extensively with Vinterberg before becoming a massive international star. The pair’s last work was the exceptionally made The Hunt (2012), which came out four years before Mikkelsen became one of the more memorable Bond villains in Casino Royale.
Their latest work, Another Round, also happens to be Denmark’s Oscar entry for the 2021 Academy Awards, and it centers on four middle-aged male high school teachers who have each lost their zest for life, their relationships, and their work—Mikkelsen’s Martin perhaps most of all. His students aren’t inspired by him, his wife barely looks at or speaks to him, and he has become withdrawn even among his closest friends. Once night, the four men—also including Thomas Bo Larsen, Magnus Millang, and Lars Ranthe—decide to embark on a risky experiment inspired by an actual philosophical theory. It postulates that the human body actually operates at an alcohol deficiency, and that one could drink a steady amount all day, keeping at that fine line between loose and drunk, in order to improve one’s overall performance as well as their personality. They all agree to do this during the day but not drink at night, and the results are overwhelmingly positive almost immediately.
Martin begins to connect with his students, his wife (Maria Bonnevie) begins to notice him again, and he even seems to like himself much more. The four friends take notes and track their progress, slowly upping the alcohol intake, but maintaining a functional demeanor. Another Round isn’t about simply watching these four people drink and get away with it; it’s more about the desperate lengths people (especially men) will got to to recapture a bit of that youthful energy that made them interesting and appealing to others. Since drinking is fairly permissible among older kids, at least in this seaside community, the teachers draw a great deal of inspiration from their students’ behavior and positive energy. They eventually decide that the only way the four of them can make accurate “scientific” observations is to go overboard with the drinking and notice the negative impacts just for comparison’s sake. And in one night of binge drinking, they nearly ruin every inch of progress they’ve made with their lives during this period; the experiment even seems to push one of its participants into full-blown alcoholism.
Co-written by Vinterberg and regular collaborator Tobias Lindholm, Another Round is about walking a thin line and seeking a bit of youthful joy, while risking everything in the process. Mikkelsen’s Martin has clearly fallen the farthest, a fact we don’t really grasp until the final sequence, set just after graduation of the senior class. Martin and his fellow teachers get caught up and honored by their students, and the crowd erupts into an expression of pure euphoria. The film sounds raucous and out of control, but in fact, it’s touching in its exploration of the balancing act between a life without limits and the very real consequences of living that way. It’s a surprisingly beautiful and fragile work that taps into the sensitive side of Mikkelsen in a way he doesn’t often get to play in his English-language productions.
The film is available for streaming via the Gene Siskel Film Center’s Film Center from Your Sofa program; a portion of your rental goes to support the theatre while it’s closed. It will be available digitally on December 18.
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