By Christian DiMartino
Alcohol can be tricky business. See, on one hand, it’s absolutely wonderful. You get a few drinks in you, it alleviates stress, your tension is gone, and then you just ride the wave. That being said, once you feel that buzz, what you choose to do next remains to be seen. You either stop after a drink or two or five, or you keep going in pursuit of a stronger level of drunk, and this is where the wonderful side of alcohol begins to fade away. It all depends on how far you want your body to take it.
This is, essentially, the idea of Thomas Vinterberg’s latest film, Another Round, which made a surprise break into the Oscar race the morning of the nominations. While it wasn’t nominated for Best Picture or Original Screenplay, it did manage to nab a spot in the Best Director category, ousting Aaron Sorkin for The Trial of the Chicago 7. A surprise, yes, but a pleasant one. In all honesty though, Another Round is actually worthy of the aforementioned Best Picture and Original Screenplay nominations too. Here is a heck of a time that manages to remain a heck of a time until about the last 30 minutes, when things start to teeter towards the dark side. Even when it does though, it’s completely earned because of what Vinterberg establishes before it.
See, you’ll recall the opening paragraph where I discuss the magic of alcohol. I do love to drink. Yet I don’t drink as much now as I used to. I was probably an alcoholic a few years ago, getting black-out drunk quite a bit. There are scenes in Another Round that I wholeheartedly related to. For example, after a night of unstoppable partying, Mads Mikkelsen’s Martin wakes up on a sidewalk. I have never done that, specifically, but I have crashed into a few lamps and injured myself. It’s fun in the moment, but the morning after… not so much. It all depends on how far you want to take it, not how far you should take it, and even then, someone should really put a stop to it.
Vinterberg’s film follows a group of friends- Martin (Mikkelsen), Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), Nikolaj (Magnus Millang), and Peter (Lars Ranthe)- who all happen to be high school teachers. When celebrating Nikolaj’s 40th birthday, he tells his friends of a theory that their lives will improve if they maintain a constant level of alcohol in their blood. The level being 0.05%. Martin, currently going through marital issues and feeling bored with his job, decides to test the 0.05% during his next school day, and soon him and his friends decide to test out the theory for themselves.
They decide to do it for research, but is it really for research or is it to have a good time? I love the scenes where the guys try to convince themselves that it’s a good idea. Typically, they name-drop people like Hemingway and Tchaikovsky, and claim that their drinking led to masterpieces, so so will theirs. It’s funny stuff. Surely enough though, it does appear to work wonders. Martin’s class becomes involved with his teaching, and his marriage grows somewhat stronger. Tommy, Nikolaj and Peter also notice vast improvements in their teaching. Soon they even decide to up their alcohol consumption, and as we’ve discussed before, it can be a really great time… until it isn’t.
It seems like people are often skeptical when it comes to foreign films, probably because they have to read the whole thing. Admitted, I’m sometimes that way. Yet by avoiding foreign films, you’re depriving yourself of some truly original stuff. Another Round is wonderfully original, with a concept that keeps giving from beginning to end. Truth is, despite their missteps, I liked these guys. I would never do what they do, in terms of showing up to work drunk, but I always rooted for them, and feared for the dark turn that was around the corner. The performances sell it beautifully too; Mikkelsen aside, I didn’t recognize any of these people, and yet they all clicked together. Mikkelsen does serve as the film’s dramatic center though, and he gives the great performance we’ve come to expect from him (despite his usual villainous presence, he’s very believable and likable here).
Vinteberg’s film and script is sharp and filled with truth. There are a lot of wonderfully funny moments in Another Round, particularly if you’ve been there. Yet I like the way that the film doesn’t choose a side in terms of drinking. Vinterberg knows how much fun it can be (a good chunk of the film feels like a party), but he also knows how rough it can be. It all leads to a conclusion that I absolutely adored, for reasons I won’t share unless you see it (it’s currently streaming on Hulu). Said concept manages to work beautifully in Another Round, and it makes for one of the year’s very best films; a certified winner for the Best International Feature Film Oscar.