‘Another Round’ Pictures a Vapid Love-Affair with Alcoholism

Thomas Vinterberg’s latest film about a group of middle-aged men finding happiness through the habitual consumption of alcohol is sentimental and without complexity

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BY Kristian Vistrup Madsen in Opinion | 21 APR 21

It is with great determination that Thomas Vinterberg’s new film, Another Round (2020), sets out to be life-affirming. This is understandable. Produced against the backdrop of the tragic death of Vinterberg’s daughter in 2019, the film ultimately seeks to find joy in moments of grief and hardship. Nominated for two Academy Awards (Best International Feature and Best Director), Another Round draws a compelling portrait of friendship between men, and the desire for a more invigorated way of being in the world. Nonetheless, Vinterberg has made a movie of little complexity. Not for a second is the viewer truly disturbed, so stubbornly does the film cling to life as we already know it, to convention, to the past. 

Thomas Bo Larsen, Mads Mikkelsen, Magnus Millang and Lars Ranthe in Another Round. Courtesy: Mongrel Media; photograph: Henrik Ohsten
Thomas Bo Larsen, Mads Mikkelsen, Magnus Millang and Lars Ranthe in Another Round. Courtesy: Mongrel Media; photograph: Henrik Ohsten

Another Round follows Tommy, Martin, Nikolaj and Peter – played respectively by Thomas Bo Larsen, Mads Mikkelsen, Magnus Millang and Lars Ranthe – who teach at the same high school. Struggling with their marriages, the numbness of middle age, loneliness and depression, they decide to investigate Norwegian psychiatrist Finn Skårderud’s hypothesis that humans would experience existence more fully if they maintained a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.05 percent throughout the day. This means chugging wine before breakfast, taking taxis to work and hiding bottles of booze in the gym’s supply room – a series of goofy manoeuvres that, initially, rejuvenate the men and cast them as rock stars. The students now cheer at Martin’s previously drab history lessons. A tipsy Tommy boosts the confidence of the bespectacled outcast on his team of adorable young footballers. Peter helps an anxiety-ridden student pass his oral exam on Søren Kierkegaard by giving him swigs of vodka. Such aggressively heart-warming, cringeworthy scenes are matched in the movie’s latter half by an equally schmaltzy downfall. Finally, Martin and Nikolaj’s wives – who, in a bizarrely retro gender dynamic, have appeared only fleetingly throughout – decide they’ve had enough of the self-absorbed exercise and leave their spouses. (Though, in the end, they return for another round with their respective husbands.) Tommy, pure at heart but sadly lost to the depths of alcoholism, takes his boat out on the bay, sailing towards the horizon, as though into a romantic seascape, and commits suicide. At his funeral, the football team he coached sing the Danish national anthem (the second time it appears in the film, no less) in a scene of such sentimentalism it’s almost unbearable.

Mads Mikkelsen in Another Round. Courtesy: Mongrel Media; photograph: Henrik Ohsten
Mads Mikkelsen in Another Round. Courtesy: Mongrel Media; photograph: Henrik Ohsten

The anthem, written in 1819 by Adam Oehlenschläger about Vikings and lovely maidens, is one of several references to 19th-century national romanticism that dot Vinterberg’s narrative. At other moments, Peter conducts the school choir in a performance of Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘I Danmark er jeg født’ (In Denmark I Was Born, 1850) and teaches Kierkegaard to his religious studies class. Given the ecstatic racism and animal-like patriotism portrayed in Vinterberg’s early, cruel masterpiece The Celebration (1998), we might have expected him to employ these mainstays of the Danish canon to some more challenging end. In Another Round, however, profound discomfort has been replaced by pure mawkishness, languishing in the toothless grip of that quaint national affect known as hygge, or coziness.

In one short clip, rather brilliantly bereft of context, a student is asked to recite Kierkegaard’s famous line: ‘To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. Not to dare is to lose oneself.’ This notion underpins the friends’ experiment with alcohol; they’re lost on a sea of conventionality. And so, in truth, is the film. There is little of the courage usually afforded by a stiff drink in either form or mood. Instead, Vinterberg offers a consistent ‘normality’ as a kind of buffer. Every interior is so stereotypically mid-century as to be almost farcical: stacks of yellowing paper, postwar abstraction on the walls, vinyl record players, ancient kitchens. The film’s location scouts must have set out looking for homes belonging to people born in the 1930s. Even the weather succumbs to archetypes: when did it last snow in Denmark on Christmas? While such stylized conventionality could have carried the flair of pastiche, here it seems symptomatic and unthinking, merely adding to the sentimentality of the plot.

Mads Mikkelsen in Another Round. Courtesy: Mongrel Media; photograph: Henrik Ohsten
Mads Mikkelsen in Another Round. Courtesy: Mongrel Media; photograph: Henrik Ohsten

Vinterberg inverts the time-honoured coming-of-age film by setting his midlife-crisis drama in a high school. Another Round was shot at Aurehøj Gymnasium, which has featured in several Danish films, including the iconic 1985 adaption of Klaus Rifbjerg’s coming-of-age novel, The Chronic Innocence (1958), in which the terrifying yet beautiful Ms. Junkersen seduces the boyfriend of her daughter, Helle, who then takes her own life on the eve of her graduation. Susse Wold – who played Ms, Junkersen in the film adaption – has been cast by Vinterberg as the school principal in Another Round; her handcuffing to a railing as a drunken graduation shenanigan during the plots denouement is an apt illustration of the film’s comparatively low stakes. Ms. Junkersen’s betrayal is cold and eternal; there is no return from the tragedy of Helle’s death. But the problems Vinterberg has wrought for his teachers – boredom, recklessness, melancholy – aren’t tragic or eternal. Like the Poul Henningsen lamp that hangs above Martin’s dining table, they are the stuff of life. When Martin is peeled off the pavement piss-drunk from the night before and, under the prying eyes of neighbours, dragged into the house by his eldest son, we are embarrassed but we are not disturbed. We have no questions. We move on.

Main image: Thomas Bo Larsen in Another Round. Courtesy: Mongrel Media; photograph: Henrik Ohsten

Kristian Vistrup Madsen is an arts and culture writer based in Berlin, Germany.

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