TIFF 2020: 'Another Round' is One of Thomas Vinterberg's Best Films
by Alex Billington
September 18, 2020
"The world is never as you expect." That's the truth, even when we don't want it to be. Originally selected as a 2020 Cannes Film Festival premiere (before that fest was cancelled this year), Thomas Vinterberg's latest film is instead premiering at the 2020 Toronto Film Festival this fall. Another Round brings Vinterberg back home to Denmark and reteams him with exceptionally talented Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen to tell a story about drinking alcohol. Druk is the film's original Danish title, essentially translating to "drunk" or the act of binge drinking. Which is exactly what the four main characters in the film do, along with all of the students they're teaching. "Everyone in this country has a drinking problem," one character says in the film, which is true about Denmark and about pretty much every other country in the world, if we're to be honest. It is what it is, and we can't really stop it (prohibition didn't work, remember?). But can drinking be good?
This is a film that could not be made in America, and could not be made in Russia or Asia, primarily because the culture around alcohol is entirely different than it is in Europe. While everyone loves drinking alcohol everywhere all over the world, the openness to consuming it (with a much lower drinking age) and cultural acceptance of beer and wine as a regular drinks is more European than anything. Vinterberg's Another Round is set in Copenhagen and follows four middle-aged male friends, all high school teachers, who try to "test" a theory that if they drink a little every day and maintain a 0.05% blood alcohol level during work hours it will improve their lives. And it does, at first. But we all know where this leads - it can be dangerous. This is, nonetheless, an intriguing and mesmerizing theory to explore in a film, especially with a superb cast taking on these main roles and showing us (with complex emotions) the good and the bad sides of alcohol.
What impressed me the most watching Vinterberg's Another Round is that it doesn't ever hit us on the head with the implications and consequences of alcohol consumption. I always appreciate when a director shows us, through performances and adjustments in mood and atmosphere, how things have changed, and doesn't feel the need to explain it in text or dialogue. They don't need to have a conservation about how drinking is screwing things up, we can see it on their face, we see it in scenes where they interact with family and other people at the school. The film is subtle in its depiction of alcoholism, and showing how a bit of alcohol can be joyful, but too much can be bad. We all know this, of course, but to explore it with these characters is thrilling. I sincerely loved watching this film, and felt genuinely moved by its many ups and downs, by all the sadness and joy that the characters experience. Ultimately it's a story about the "unexpectedness" of life.
Another Round is one of Vinterberg's best films, balancing complex emotions and honesty with engaging and entertaining filmmaking. It's serious, but not too serious. A genuine celebration of life - and of libation. It's a fantastic look at how alcohol and the sloppy relaxation it provides is often needed in order to deal with the great challenges that life throws at us. Each of the four main characters – played by Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Lars Ranthe, Magnus Millang – realizes they must confront the demons in their life, but they can only begin to do this once they start drinking alcohol (again). The film is not encouraging drinking, nor is it a scientific study in any way, nor is it saying drinking is good. It's just exploring the idea that for these men, at this point in their lives, they need to address problems and this is helping them. And then it hurts them. And then they learn lessons, both on alcohol consumption and about their own choices.
Speaking of being honest, this is the truth - Mads Mikkelsen is so magnificently good in every single film he makes. He's entirely believable and has so much depth right from the first scene of this film. And the whole cast is just phenomenal - everyone handles all the intense ups and downs with grace, and makes this film as wonderful to watch as it is depressing. There are some sad moments throughout this, but that is life, there's good and bad. And enjoying a few drinks helps us handle it all. And I am so glad the film doesn't lean in any one direction - that alcohol is good or bad. As always, moderation is key to life. And by the end this film is a celebration of life. Alcohol doesn't solve problems, it doesn't fix anything, but perhaps it does allow us the chance to realize there are things we must fix, there are problems we need to solve, and we better not ignore them. And if we let alcohol, or any addiction, take control of us it can ruin us. Let's not let that happen. Skål.
Alex's TIFF 2020 Rating: 9 out of 10
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