The Film Festival continued on the Sunday night, with the traditional surprise film. The offerings that this has made available to people over the years have, being honest, been extremely mixed, and after I and my other half were subjected to the utterly dreadful Dragged Across Concrete in 2019, we actually gave the surprise film a miss last year, having been burned one too many times by the festival directors, shall we say, less than stellar record at procurement for the slot. But 2021 is a different time, and in the circumstances if I didn’t like the surprise film I could always just turn off my laptop.
Well, I didn’t turn off my laptop, though that doesn’t mean I liked the movie. Introduced by its lead, Mads Mikkelsen on the feed I got access to, Another Round, or Druk in the films native Denmark, was described by the star as “an ode to alcohol” and sold to watching eyes as a comic piece. With a director I am familiar with only insofar as his debated impact on the European industry in the 90s, and a premise that could easily go one way or the other, I was suitably intrigued by the rapid info I was able to look up about the film before it started rolling. So, was it a redemptive moment for the surprise film in my eyes? Or just another reason why it shouldn’t actually be a yearly part of the programme? I was able to see a screening of this though the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival.
Martin (Mikkelsen), Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), Peter (Lars Ranthe) and Nikolaj (Magnus Millang) are teaching colleagues in a Danish secondary school, whose lives are hitting dead ends for similar reasons, between problems at home and a lack of fulfillment in work. Over drinks, the quartet are inspired by the suggestion of psychiatrist Finn Skårderud, that a constant blood alcohol level of 0.05 is the perfect amount to inspire creativity and lead to a better life, and commit to giving the idea a try: in the resulting weeks the four have different experiences, running the gauntlet between 180 degree changes in their lives to flat-out alcoholism.
Another Round is a bit of a strange film. It’s hard to know exactly what it is the movie is trying to say, and the lack of cohesion in this respect is a really fatal flaw in my opinion. It vacillates between treating the imbibing of alcohol as a comedy goldmine and a sad activity for lost souls, and never really does enough to bridge the gap between those two opposing points. The end result is a bit of a muddle, and despite the mountain of critical acclaim I have seen Anther Round get, it is not a film that I can see I was hugely impressed with.
As an examination of what amounts of a mid-life crisis and efforts to find a magic bullet to get out of it, Another Round certainly has potential. A flat-out comedy could certainly be made out of this premise, with the whole thing reminding me a hit of the Irish horror spoof Grabbers (The World’s End springs to mind too, even if the characters of Another Round are more likable than in Edgar Wright’s similarly themed sci-fi horror). It could be done as pure slapstick, it could be done as dramedy, but it could certainly be done. One feels that if it were to lean into the comedy, it might actually be able to make more a serious point at the end of it all: after all, what is drunkenness, but the ability to see the humour in things that, when you sober up, seem distinctly unfunny? A film about trying to stay in the sweet spot of supreme self-confidence has potential. But Another Round chooses not to go that way. Instead it veers far more towards the serious, and while this is not some kind of crazy choice, it does mean that the inherent attraction in the premise, being inverted, is lost almost from the get go.
So instead we get Martin and his terrible personal life mixed with his terrible professional life, and his friend who is struggling with the new baby and the other friend with relationship problems and the other friend and his loneliness, and then we have to watch them all try to kid themselves into thinking that alcohol is the solution to their problems, right on down to getting totally trashed on the streets of Copenhagen. Another Round is barely comedic really, and is in reality incredible sad: an examination of how unfulfilled men gleefully give into the lure of alcohol as the solution to all of their ills. At times you do feel like the script is expecting you to laugh, but for me the chuckles never really came: instead Another Round was just an exercise in uncomfortableness, as you wait for the four friends’ lives to explode through their overuse of booze. Placing such scenes against joyful teenagers getting wrecked in public only served to make the difference all the greater: perhaps intentional, but the intention only shines a deeper spotlight on the films lack of tonal consistency. Mid-life crises are good mines for drama, but the sort of mundanity of repetition that Another Round showcases doesn’t fix itself with the subsequent depiction of loss of control.
Another Round just can’t seem to decide what its message about alcohol is supposed to be. There’s a brief examination of Danish drinking culture here, especially among the aforementioned Danish youth, but it’s very shallow: the majority of the film is more about turning from drinking as a means to bind middle aged men together and drinking as a way of destroying themselves. As an ode to alcohol it certainly doesn’t seem to work as far as I can see: regardless of the filmmakers’ intentions, you come out of Another Round thinking that alcohol and its use/abuse is undoubtedly a bad thing. After all, it ruins several lives/relationships here, and there is little sadder to see on-screen than an alcoholic who doesn’t think that they are. Perhaps my own background, being from a country where the alcohol industry has a position in society out of all proportion relative to the societal good and public health, is colouring my perception here, but it remains the point that Another Round doesn’t really know what it wants to say about its premise. Some might praise Vinterberg for not judging the characters for their behavior, but taking a rigidly neutral perspective doesn’t make for a good narrative.
This is a pretty different film to the kinds that I have seen Mads Mikkelsen in over the last few years, and I have to say that I don’t think the role really suits him that much. Martin is such a pathetic sad sack, and the part does not play to the actors strength. Mikkelsen does best with intense roles, be they Le Chiffre or Hannibal Lecter, and trying to pull off this middle aged whiner who is too scared to have a conversation with his wife is something he just doesn’t seem all that interested in doing. He does better acting work in 30 minutes of non-speaking in Arctic than he does in two hours here. Moreover, he too often comes across as just dull when the film wants you to view him as indifferent, a fairly critical different really. I’d love to see Mikkelsen in a flat-out comedy, but since that isn’t what Another Round is the chance goes a begging here. The relationship drama between Martin and his wife does give the film a little something to sink your teeth into, but it’s all too fleeting, and actually quite overwrought by the end. Seeing him drunkenly dance at the conclusion was something else, but felt fundamentally wrong: perhaps this is a consequence of a certain amount of pigeon-holing in the actors career, but there it is.
There are several other issues that detract from the experience. I feel that whatever comedy Another Round has to offer gets a little lost in the subtitles, that don’t seem to capture what is required: scenes that take place in classrooms with Martin and his history students seem particularly stilted, even after he starts going to class sozzled. The film drags itself out to an extent that is fairly self-defeating, coming in at a two hour mark when 90 minutes is all that is required: too many scenes are strung out needlessly, and the film has one too many supporting characters. And there is a sense, in the last act, that Another Round is becoming needlessly manipulative with its audience, introducing tragedy and meltdown to the narrative that simply adds to the sense that this is a picture that you don’t really want to watch.
Another Round is shot pretty simply, and I honestly wouldn’t say that it is anything too special on that score. From one of the minds that caused such a kerfuffle in the filmmaking world with the “Dogme 95” movement, it’s positively straightforward. I feel the need to be that blunt as the film is starting to get numerous award nominations in the category of directing, and I do genuinely feel that this might be misplaced (it’s easy to imagine that the tragic circumstances that surround the film playing a part in that). Vinterberg likes to keep a handheld camera style going, with the lens up close and personal with all of his principals, perhaps to dispel the feeling that we are watching a stage show (as the whole thing was apparently meant to be). The film has occasional issues with lighting in nighttime scenes, and then on other occasions approaches a kind of mania, especially in the final sequence of the film, with rapid movements that are disorientating and strange, and simply do not fit into the other 98% of the experience.
Druk is a film that I just could not go into. It’s tonally a bit all over the place, and while some of that might be blamed on what I feel might be a lackadaisical translation job on the subtitles, it’s still something that’s difficult to forgive. It certainly isn’t a comedy, no matter how it was advertised, but then doesn’t go all-in on being a serious examination of binge drinking either. Mikkelsen isn’t suited to the part, and the rest of the supporting cast is only OK really. The tonal issues are reflected in some of the cinematography problems as well, and the film is also just far too long for what it is. Different parts dull, frustrating and maudlin, it wasn’t a film that I could really engage with. It’s no Dragged Across Concrete – I was wasn’t actively insulted by Another Round – but the surprise film has, regretfully, done it again. Not recommended.
(All images are copyright of Nordisk Film).