Thomas Vinterberg’s 2012 collaboration with lead actor Mads Mikkelsen produced one of the best films of that year in THE HUNT. The concept of ANOTHER ROUND reads like a bawdy comedy, but the cocktail Vinterberg and Mikkelsen shake up is altogether sharper and more complex than that.
Mikkelsen plays the role of Martin, a history teacher drudging through life. He is a quiet and introspective figure, seemingly lacking passion for his marriage and job in a way that has become clear to those around him. However, when celebrating the birthday of his colleague and friend, Nikolaj, the theory that humans have too low an alcohol blood level is put forward. The four men present resolve to try and maintain a blood alcohol level of 0.05%, supposedly the ‘optimum’ posited by this hypothesis. There are inevitable ups and downs in the four men’s execution of this, with them sailing dangerously close to the alcoholic wind, but Martin’s experience is the most transformative.
In portraying this experience, Mikkelsen is wonderful, and without the (ironic) sobriety he brings the script would be devoid of the depth the final film possesses. The film balances comedic elements with the darker edges of what the men are doing, skirting with alcoholism whilst also highlighting why intoxicating liquor is as popular as it is across the world. Martin’s slightly more lively existence – reinvigorating his professional demeanour, creativity, and his stale marriage – speaks to the relaxing effects. With his edges sanded off, Martin’s life seems to be a more enjoyable experience. However, as they all push this limit, the more damaging aspects take hold. Even when the alcohol appears to act as a pressure relief valve, the incongruous sights of a teacher swigging vodka in a school toilet or recommending a stiff drink to a student to calm pre-exam nerves is still intentionally jarring. The stand out supporting performance belongs to Thomas Bo Larsen’s portrayal of Tommy’s slow downward spiral.
In one especially destructive binge drinking session, Vinterberg’s approach illustrates the shift in tone: the lighting changes to a more dim and ominous look, his characters are framed at odd angles and obscured, and the audio becomes muddied and distorted. From this point on, the film balances the competing positive and negative aspects without breaking the stride of the story. The personal limit and effects of alcohol are also represented with the contrasting limits each member of the quartet aims for and the results they experience when they reach it. Although each finds positive aspects to ‘loosening up’, it raises the question as to whether the men are merely drowning out the pressures of their lives (indeed, the original title can also translate as the slightly more ambiguous ‘pressure’ or ‘drowned’).
As the film concludes – with an incredible flourish from Mikkelsen – it leaves that question reasonably open. ANOTHER ROUND is perhaps less sure-footed in its conclusions than THE HUNT was. Still, that original Danish title, as with so many title translations, perhaps better conveys the layers that Vinterberg’s film successfully conveys using cinematic language and the superb central performance from Mikkelsen.