High Spirits, by Bob Connally

8 May

For the past few years, Tyler has been kind enough to post my annual Bob Awards to this site. Every year there are a few key films that for one reason or another I am not able to see in time and when I finally get around to some of them, I regret not having seen them sooner. A past example of this was 2018’s Suspiria, particularly for the performance of Tilda Swinton. For obvious reasons, there were a few films in 2020 that I simply haven’t had the opportunity to see yet but there is one that was released on Hulu in plenty of time that I just didn’t get around to. Until now. It pains me because Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round is almost certainly the best movie of 2020 that I have now seen.

Martin (Mads Mikkelsen) is a high school history teacher in Denmark, feeling disconnected from his job, his marriage, and his children. He goes out to dinner with his three best friends, Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), Nikolaj (Magnus Millang), and Peter (Lars Ranthe) who are also teachers at the school for Nikolaj’s 40th birthday. Rather than simply being a fun outing for the old friends, the attention turns to Martin and his obvious malaise. Nikolaj feels that Martin does not have enough joy in his life and the meal becomes something of an intervention to get Martin to start drinking. It’s not made clear how long Martin has been steering away from alcohol but it’s been long enough as far as his mates are concerned. 

As the discussion continues, all four reveal their struggles in their work, lamenting their seeming inability to connect with their students. Nikolaj has a possible solution, however. Citing a theory by Norwegian psychiatrist, Finn Skarderud, he proposes that the four of them maintain a 0.05 blood alcohol content level during their working hours. Skarderud posits that the BAC level humans naturally have is too low and that raising it to 0.05 will help them be more relaxed and aid them in their jobs. Nikolaj not only proposes testing this theory, but he also wants to create an academic research study to document their experiences. While it should seem obvious that no possible good can come from this, Martin and his friends are completely on board with starting this experiment the following day.

Written by Vinterberg and Tobias Lindholm, Another Round’s characters find that drinking throughout the day relaxes them but it surely puts the audience on edge. There’s a sense through every step of their experiment that it’s only a matter of time before one or all of them are caught and will have to face dire consequences or, even worse, someone is hurt in the name of their academic research. Even after a few close calls they just can’t help themselves and start adding other factors to their project. There’s certainly a recklessness to it all and it causes problems in their personal lives while seemingly improving their workdays. Marriages and families hit hard times but Martin is connecting with his history students as never before. While he doesn’t reveal the project to his class, he still engages in an open discussion with the kids about alcohol consumption, with students unabashedly talking about how much they average in a week. It’s almost impossible to imagine a scene like this in an American film, not only because of the difference in the legal drinking age in the United States but simply in the way drinking is treated here as opposed to European countries.

What also separates this from an American movie on this subject is how Another Round treats its characters. While Vinterberg in no way presents Martin or his friends as perfect and their mistakes are not excused, he doesn’t judge them or hold them in contempt. Vinterberg likes his characters and so do we. A scene in which Peter approaches a nervous student prior to an exam and suggests downing a couple of shots to calm himself comes off as a teacher trying to be legitimately helpful, regardless of how responsible it might really be. Envisioning the same scene involving an American teacher and student would most likely make your skin crawl.

We also like these characters thanks to the excellent performances of Mikkelsen, Larsen, Millang, and Ranthe. They give their friendship a believability and ease that makes it easy to accept they have been close for many years. Mikkelsen is extraordinary here as a man seeming to struggle through every aspect of his life and desperately looking for a way to make everything fall into place. His every facial expression brings us into his mind and we come to feel we are close with Martin too.

Despite its heavy subject matter, Another Round is not a depressing film. Its characters are real people who we want to see find peace and happiness. While there are aspects of it that are literally foreign to American audiences, there’s a universality to what Vinterberg is presenting through his story and characters. This is an absolute must-watch for the kind of discerning film viewers Tyler started More Than One Lesson for in the first place. Another Round is currently available on Hulu.

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