Another Round, the new Danish film by director Thomas Vinterberg (The Hunt), might be the most relatable film from last year. It’s not because of the excess drinking four colleagues decide to partake in to maintain a constant level of alcohol in their blood, but because they reached the point of wanting to change how they live each day. Monotony can get old after a while. The film is at once a celebration of reclaiming your power and a course correction when becoming disengaged with life.
The men agree to test a theory that humans live with a low alcohol level. They start drinking during the workday and experience a change in their passion for teaching. However, they must reconcile with their gradual inability to control their intake. Vinterberg allows the camera to act as a fifth participant when the men get together, giving the film a sense of realism and urgency. Another Round is a moving exploration of how to live each day to the fullest and how easy it is to jeopardize the very things that have brought you great things in life.
The film begins with kids drunkenly racing around a lake, drinking a full beer case, and losing points if they throw up. They attend the school where Martin (Mads Mikkelsen), devoid of passion and clarity, sits morosely in front of his history class. His wife works night shifts, his kids barely acknowledge his presence, and it seems he struggles to find much hope during the day. But he’s not alone.
Gym instructor Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen) sits bored shitless as students run around the gymnasium. At the same time, the music teacher Peter (Lars Ranthe) struggles to inspire his students to sing in unison, and psychology teacher Nikolaj (Magnus Millang) can’t even get a response from his unmoved class. Martin is ambushed by his class’s parents, who fear that he has become dull and won’t get the students where they need to be. They think he is indifferent, and his response is silence.
That evening, the men go out together for Peter’s birthday celebration, and Martin decides to start drinking. The heavier he goes, the looser he becomes, and eventually, the men have an absolute riot of time off their faces with alcohol. Peter remarks that humans are born with a .05% blood alcohol deficit, so if they drink during the school day to the point that they maintain that level, they might start to feel more relaxed, confident, and even spirited. Hemmingway even did it! Martin hesitates to drink too much but gives in after telling the men, ‘I don’t know how I ended up like this.’ The next day at school, Martin pulls a bottle of alcohol from his bag in the school bathroom, takes a swig, and tests his blood alcohol with a personal breathalyzer device. The rules are simple: No alcohol after 8 P.M. on weekdays and no weekend drinking. If only the effects of the drink weren’t so consuming.
Thankfully, the film never judges its characters because as they start to test their tolerance levels, they also learn the limitations of their experiment. It’s a beautifully realized story, not just because of its relatability but because the men are at various stages of their lives. Martin is distant from his family, Nikolaj has two kids plus a newborn, Tommy recently split from his girlfriend, and Peter is single. Another Round doesn’t ask the audience to look down on these men but understands that the experience is human. The drinking isn’t without consequence, both professionally and personally, and Martin notes that drinking during the week makes being sober on weekends easier. He can enjoy a canoe trip with his family without a single drop.
But coming back home changes that, and the men continue escalating the theory, upping the stakes and blood alcohol level to the point where Tommy staggers into a staff meeting to embarrassing effect. Screenwriters Thomas Vinterberg and Tobias Lindholm don’t always give each character their due. Still, they’re sympathetic to the cause, managing to make these men’s experiences lived in, even if they don’t end up completely fulfilling. The point seems to be that sometimes you need a jolt to awaken from the meditation of repetition.
In a beautiful scene where Peter instructs his students to listen to each other’s voices as they sing, the alcohol seems to give him enough patience and awareness to extract a harmonious performance. However, nothing is as telling as Martin’s dance at the film’s end, where he has almost lost his family to his escalating and dangerous drinking habit. Martin leaps freely into the air in front of his graduating class and throws his arms wide to the world in a jazzy routine. He doesn’t just want the comfort of alcohol; he wants another round of life.