Another Round (Druk) – Review

Mads Mikkelsen - Another Round - DrukIt’s strange, but I never think of the Danes as excessive. In fact, when I think of Denmark, I think of everything as being pared back – their style; décor; way of life; sense of humour. And yet, according to the stats rattled off in Another Round, there is a real culture of teen binge drinking – one that has become something of a stain on the record of a country that typically tops happiness and equality indexes.

At the heart of Thomas Vinterberg’s Oscar-nominated tragicomedy is a circle of four middle-aged friends. Washed up and washed out by everyday life, they are phoning it in at their teaching jobs and barely clinging on to something resembling family life. The film opens with teenagers cavorting around a lake as part of a hedonistic drinking game, as if to emphasise this loss of energy and enthusiasm in these four men.

At a sophisticated candlelit dinner, Nikolaj (Magnus Millang) proposes to his friends that they can get their joie de vivre back by adhering to the teachings of the philosopher, Skarderud, who suggests that humans are born with a blood / alcohol deficiency of 0.05% and that keeping this ratio topped up throughout the day is the best way to relax, enjoy life and be productive. Teetotal history teacher Martin (Mads Mikkelsen, whose nuanced performance here equals the pathos he brought to The Hunt) immediately downs a shot of vodka and two glasses of red wine. From there, a story of equal parts fun and heartbreak unravels …

At first, it’s all a bit humorous. There are shots of the four men gripping their travel coffee mugs and water bottles with knowing winks and nods to each other in the corridors. There are bottles of whisky and vodka stashed in storage cupboards and toilets. Hell, their teaching efforts actually seem to improve and their students are more engaged.

The four men feel like they are in control – owing to the rules they have set out – and believe that this experiment is giving them back everything they had twenty years ago: pleasure in their jobs; a sex drive; a social life; a desire to go places and do things. Every so often, a breathalyzer title card appears on screen and to clock up their ratios. It’s a really nice touch. There’s even a montage of world leaders – from Sarkozy to Clinton; from Yeltsin to our very own Boris – hiccupping and slurring their way through public speeches.

The soundtrack is also a cool mix of traditional Danish songs, classical piano and modern pop. It lends a sense of chaos and also allows some scenes to breathe. It’s stirring in its simplicity.

The film is made up of sharp contrasts. A scene populated with bad dad dancing and absinthe cocktails – chaotic and fun – is quickly followed by the men staggering their way around a supermarket, looking exactly like the type of people you’d try to avoid on the night bus home. A fun trip to the pub is followed by scenes of Nikolaj pissing the bed and Martin walking up on the street, bloodied and bruised.

Mads Mikkelsen - Another Round - DrukVinterberg has really managed to strike the balance between the hedonism and joy of getting pissed with your pals and the realities of consuming more than your body can handle. This is evidently the case for Tommy (a brilliant Thomas Bo Larsen), whose story is perhaps the saddest of all.

The performances here are incredible. It is really hard to act drunk – convincingly – and yet all four leads seem to nail it. Mikkelsen and Larsen, in particular, stand out as they battle for dominance with their alcohol consumption. The slow motion montage of the men screaming into the void is striking in its silence and shadow. The film is a morality tale, but it never lectures. It simply uses scenes like the one where Tommy stumbles into the school staff room to demonstrate the society, quite literally, often turns away from people who need help the most.

The film’s Danish title, Druk, translates to binge drinking and it seems interesting that they would soften the English translation when the original strikes at the heart of the story. The experiment – like some nights out – stops being fun.

Since this review is relatively spoiler-free, it would be cruel to talk about how the film wraps up. What I will say, however, is that it, too, is made up of contrasts – both shocking and vivid; expressive and disenchanting.

Fully deserving of all the awards buzz it’s receiving, Another Round is due for cinematic release in the UK on June 25 this year, subject to the easing of lockdown restrictions.

Mary Munoz
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