Another Round was a big hit in its native Denmark, managing to coax people into cinemas even as the coronavirus pandemic was shooing them away. Partly because it’s got a big Danish star, Mads Mikkelsen, in the lead, back with director Thomas Vinterberg after their big success The Hunt. And partly because it’s about booze and the Danes are big drinkers, particularly teenage Danes.
Vinterberg made the film at the prompting of his daughter Ida, who suggested that a story fuelled by the exploits of hard-partying teens might be both interesting and successful.
In the end Vinterberg tweaked that idea a bit, to make the film more about boozing middle-aged guys, and then tweaked it again to give it a more upbeat finale, after his daughter died while they were shooting. The film is dedicated to her. And no, her death was not drink-related.
Amazingly, the plot is based on an actual, scientifically dubious but reasonably well aired idea that human beings don’t have quite enough alcohol in their system and that a constant extra hit of booze will make them happier, more confident, more successful, more relaxed, more courageous etc
It’s called the Skålerud Hypothesis, after the psychiatrist who proposed it, and it’s named and discussed at a 40th birthday meal, where Martin (Mikkelsen) is one of four friends, all of whose lives could do with a bit of a lift.
Martin in particular is in big trouble. He teaches his history and his class is in open revolt at his inability to lecture coherently, focus or take an interest.
And so the foursome decide to put the Skålerud Hypothesis to the test, setting ground rules – a controlled dose of alcohol, no drinking at weekends or after 8pm, the curfew idea faintly in homage to Ernest Hemingway, a notorious toper.
Vinterberg opens the film with a teenage race around a lake, a beer consumed at every stop, points deducted for vomiting, but after that the focus is mostly on the lives of this foursome – Mikkelsen is joined by Thomas Bo Larsen, Magnus Millang and Lars Ranthe, excellent actors all.
Initially it goes well, Martin delighting his class with his sudden rediscovery of his mojo. If booze is good for anything it’s performing and teaching is all about performing. Of course it can’t last, and it doesn’t. Especially when the quaffing quartet decide to up the dose, and then up it again, in scenes that are genuinely hilarious (and impossible to square with the apparent “no booze on set” conditions under which the film was made).
The premise is spurious. What middle aged man raised in a drinking culture doesn’t already know very precisely the finely graded reaction he’ll have to one glass or two or three? Similarly, it would come as no surprise to anyone used to drinking that they perform better after maybe a couple of drinks, but after that it goes downhill rapidly – ask anyone who plays pool.
Put that to one side, though, and what we have is a faintly Lars Von Trier-like (the film is produced by his Zentropa studio) premise-driven film that’s unafraid to work things through to its consequences, though as I said Vinterberg does jolly-up the ending as a salve for his own grief at losing his daughter – that’s her classroom and some of her classmates that Martin is teaching.
It’s the second time out for Vinterberg with Mikkelsen as a teacher, but this is a long way away from The Hunt. For a start it is often very funny – there is one scene where the guys get hideously drunk and then lose almost all control of their limbs in a supermarket packed with displays waiting to be trashed – though it treads the comedic line skilfully. No one is pretending that booze isn’t a great destroyer of lives.
Like The Hunt it’s gnawing away at the success of Denmark – one of the richest countries in the world per capita – and wonders whether prosperity makes Danes a bit too conservative, a bit bored and boring.
Though it’s hardly singing the praises of drinking – and it is the catastrophic manifestation we’re looking at, rather than the grim delayed consequences to health of chronic boozing – campaigners against alcohol misuse won’t be using the film as teaching material. And it does give us a final, joyous… well it’s almost a musical number, Mikkelsen demonstrating some of the jazz ballet moves that his character Martin is supposed to have learned as a youth. Who knew?
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© Steve Morrissey 2021