Plot: A group of friends who happen to work together as teachers in the same school decide to go on an experiment: drink all day until 8 PM to test and experience their actions when their BAC level is above the limit.
Thomas Vinterberg’s ANOTHER ROUND is perhaps lighter and less striking than his previous works, particularly his last outing with Mads Mikkelsen (2012’s Oscar-nominated THE HUNT). While ANOTHER ROUND pales in comparison with this haunting film about guilt and redemption, ROUND still manages to succeed as a character study with a lot to say about alcoholism and self awareness.
Even though some pieces of the film do not come together as they should have, and the overall film is not as pitch-perfect as hoped, this likely Denmark submission for Best International Feature Film at the upcoming Academy Awards is accessible, enjoyable, entertaining and sometimes touching. A character piece that explores what it’s like to be present and invisible all at the same time, it attempts to answer the simple question: why do people drink? In Denmark, where alcoholism rates tend to be very high, Vinterberg takes a number of average characters, teachers in a public school, to delve deeper into the causes and aftermath of living with, or rather for, booze. And in a refreshing turn, the film also addresses the impact of sobriety, in what tends to be an overlooked aspect of similar films tackling substance abuse and addiction.
Martin (Mikkelsen, superb in his role and delivering a raw and committed performance) is a history school teacher who has succumbed to a mundane lifestyle: a job that barely excites him, a marriage life that’s falling apart and a once-bright future in dancing that he has all but abandoned. His friends, also teachers at the same school, are no different: a gym teacher who has never found true companionship or love, a music teacher struggling with loneliness and a married colleague whose marriage life has become robotic, dishonest and slowly dissolving.
Frustrated with how life has crushed their past dreams and how their present day is no longer something to look forward to, the three friends try to find an exit: booze. But there’s a twist: they’re not drinking just for the fun of it – there’s an experiment they plan to conduct. When one of the friends speaks of a philosopher who argued humans aren’t born with enough alcohol in their blood, he proposes they all drink constantly throughout the day – and yes, during their work hours at school albeit discretely – to maintain the “proper” blood-alcohol level that is argued to be at 0.05%. The experiment is successful at first: the three find rigor, energy and excitement that had long vanished from their lives for years. The initial success of the experiment leads them to take the experiment up several notches, but as they risk it further, issues that they have long refused to confront come to the surface.
At its core, ANOTHER ROUND is a film about self confrontation. A first step towards taking ‘another round’ at life, Vinterberg argues, is to face oneself and evade the denial that masks their life as some sort of default, matter-of-fact. Rather than choosing to portray how drinking tears down the three men’s lives, Vinterberg is more interested in how their sobriety later on, coupled with the spark they’ve all felt when drinking, all work to reveal what each of them has been refusing to confront. It’s a fantastic premise and it mostly works, but the screenplay overall does not always come together as it should have: parts of the film almost seem like a celebration of drinking rather than an examination of its cause and effect to the point where the film risks contradicting itself at times. Less coherent than Vinterberg’s previous efforts, this is still an engaging picture on the courage it takes to be truly sober.
Verdict: Despite lacking some focus and featuring some muddled moments, ANOTHER ROUND is a rewarding experience and another strong showcase of Denmark’s sublime film industry.
This review is from the 45th Toronto International Film Festival. The film is set for release in the US by Samuel Goldwyn Films.