Sober, Sentimental Take on Booze: ‘Another Round’

This is the way the party ends: not with a bang, but a slurring existential crisis.

Thomas Vinterberg says there isn’t an exact translation of Druk, the Danish title of his latest movie. “In Denmark, we have a lot of words for drinking,” he says via a Zoom call. Instead of naming it something more literal like “heavy drinking,” the film has the less abrasive English title Another Round. That term conjures something convivial, a shared drinking experience, rather than a solitary one. The “beating heart” of Vinterberg’s film, he says, is a celebratory dinner party that leads to a series of inebriated adventures. It studies the drinking habits of a group of middle-aged men who are trying to break out of their humdrum routines. 

With Another Round, Vinterberg says, “We’re trying to paint both ends [of drinking]. The ecstasy and the decay.” Martin (Mads Mikkelsen) is a high school teacher who’s no longer engaged with his job or his students. At home, nothing appears to be wrong with his marriage or his two teenage sons. But when he goes out to dinner to celebrate his friend’s birthday, someone at the table asks how he’s doing. Unable to control his pent up emotions, Martin starts to cry. To counteract his depression, ennui, or midlife crisis — and theirs — he and his friends come up with a “scientific” plan to experiment with staying slightly drunk on a daily basis.

What’s absent from their lives is any sense of joy. Another Round opens with a group of high school kids in the midst of an elaborate drinking game. The boisterous scene captures the uninhibited fun of partying with your friends and the folly of staying that way. Martin and his friends, fellow school teachers, look like wax figures in comparison. “Repetitiousness in rituals and routines can be very healthy,” the director says. “But if it becomes this empty repetitiousness, it can kill people.” When we first meet him, there’s very little left of Martin’s soul on display. He’s drained of inspiration.  

The plan that Martin and his coworkers hatch after dinner is based on an apocryphal medical study. The participants’ blood levels were monitored for alcohol as it incrementally increased in their systems. At a certain number, around two or three drinks, a person could stay functional and lucid. The study concluded that you could retain the warm glow of contentment that alcohol provides if you stay within your specified limit. What’s problematic for Martin and the other teachers, like alcoholics and addicts, is knowing when or how to stop.

“What they’re trying to do here is put things at risk,” Vinterberg says. “That wakes them up. Being on thin ice awakens you, makes you curious somehow.” But what are they waking up to or more curious about? Martin temporarily becomes a better teacher but the cracks in his marriage become more pronounced. Each man drinks too much. One shows up drunk at work. Another pisses his bed one night. And all of them vomit, stumble home, and pass out. 

Vinterberg doesn’t judge them. His camera looks at them with a neutral eye, straddling the line between glorifying their behavior and condemning them for it. But as the co-founder of the 1990s film movement Dogme 95, along with Lars von Trier, he does admit that Another Round would have looked different had he made it as a young man. “I would have stuck with the celebration of alcohol,” he says. “It would have been purely and cynically provocative, and fun all the way through.” But at this point in his life, he felt the need to show that, “alcohol can also destroy people and families.” 

In films like The Celebration (1998) and The Hunt (2012), Vinterberg creates grim portraits of family life and the breakdown of trust within a small community, respectively. Another Round, he feels, contains more “hope, warmth, love and humor” than his previous movies. “What I didn’t know when I was writing this script is that I would need that even more.” He goes on to say that his daughter died while he was making the movie. “I want to continue to be investigative about human beings, but I wanted and needed more hope.”

The defining scene in the movie was also the most difficult for the director to shoot and edit. When the four men meet for that initial dinner, they’re surrounded by warm, golden lighting. “What I thought was important about the scene was the sense of loneliness combined with the sense of beauty about being together,” Vinterberg says, paring his intention down to its essence. “It’s the movement of four people finding each other.”

Another Round is playing at the Vogue Theater and the Smith Rafael Film Center.

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