Men on the Verge

Mads Mikkelsen in Thomas Vinterberg's "Another Round," which becomes available on VOD on December 18.
Henrik Ohsten

“Another Round” is likely to get as much exposure as a subtitled film can right now. It benefits from the fact that it stars Mads Mikkelsen, even if his role here as Danish high school teacher Martin is far from a serial killer in Armani suits or his other villainous turns in English-language movies and TV.

The film, directed by Thomas Vinterberg, has a catchy concept: four teachers, all middle-aged male friends, learn about scientist Finn Skarderud’s study suggesting that humans have a blood alcohol deficiency of 0.5 percent and would benefit from constant but moderate drinking. The men go about experimenting on themselves in a way that initially enhances their lives but leads to days and nights in a stupor.

Can four middle age buddies drink their way to liberation?

The emphasis on male friendship suggests films about young men like “Diner” pushed further into the future. The film is built around several set pieces, some exhilarating. But in the first and saddest, during Nikolaj’s (Magnus Millang) 40th birthday party Martin speaks at length about his disappointments and the failure of his marriage At least 10 years older than Nikolaj, he feels he should’ve achieved more than his life as a teacher.

While “Another Round” could get an American remake, that version is bound to be far more moralistic. Vinterberg and Tobias Lindholm’s script refrains from putting a name on the characters’ actions. The word “alcoholism” is only occasionally mentioned. It reflects a much different culture, where Danish teens can legally drink at 16 and one of Martin’s students casually admits in class that he consumes 55 units of alcohol each week. If AA exists in Denmark, it’s never brought up in the film. Its trajectory is predictable, even occasionally on-the-nose (as when a student brings up Kierkegaard’s philosophical notion that acceptance of failure is key to life), but the details feel fresh and acutely observed.

The idea of some form of substance use as a boost to work isn’t as alien to American life as the plot of “Another Round.” It’s the reason caffeine is the one popular recreational drug with absolutely no restrictions on its sale. On a level of more questionable legality, college students pop Adderrall to write term papers and tech bros use nootropics or microdose LSD to try to become more productive.

This film emphasizes a sense of failure that’s specifically male and middle class. (Unfortunately, Martin’s wife has little life beyond accurately griping about how he ignores her.) Its quartet of characters were looking for something they never received in life, even if they’re doing fine by material standards. They quickly jump at the idea of artificial stimulation, using Hemingway and Churchill for inspiration. Vinterberg supplies a montage of politicians who were visibly drunk in public, although Boris Yeltsin pinching women is a far cry from writing “The Sun Also Rises.”

Vinterberg directed the most famous film to come out of the Dogme 95 movement, “The Celebration” from 1998. While he only used its grainy digital video and jumpy handheld camera once, “Another Round” changes its style to suit its characters’ level of intoxication. Early on, the camerawork reflects a subtle spirit of dissatisfaction. When they’re drinking moderately, it smooths out and the cinematography becomes more colorful.

The final scene of “Another Round” brings things full circle. The references to Martin’s past in jazz ballet pay off when he, Nikolaj, and Peter join a group of students celebrating graduation. Martin starts dancing, and this becomes the focus of the film’s final few minutes. The men have had a drink or two, but they’ve gotten over the period when they were constantly drunk. Still, Martin seems intoxicated with something. The scene plays like an updated number from a classic Hollywood musical — it’s set to the Danish pop group Scarlet Pleasure’s “What a Life,” which the students wind up singing — but Martin’s dancing grows increasingly uninhibited.

The film ends with a freeze-frame evoking the many images of people in motion that close classic French cinema. But it does not make any definitive statement about Martin’s place is in life or his future. He might be on the path to a more liberated life or on the verge of descending into heavier drinking. But enjoying the immediate moment is all that matters, even if the use of freeze-frame preserves it in stone. For once, Martin has achieved his goal of living with more intensity and freedom.

ANOTHER ROUND | Directed by Thomas Vinterberg | In Danish with English subtitles | Samuel Goldwyn Pictures | Video on demand beginning Dec. 18

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