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TIFF 2020: Another Round

Midlife crises, alcohol use disorder, Danish high school teachers in Thomas Vinterberg’s latest
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The documentary is an uncomfortable but fascinating watch. COURTESY OF TIFF
The documentary is an uncomfortable but fascinating watch. COURTESY OF TIFF

Another Round — originally titled Druk — is the newest film by celebrated Danish director Thomas Vinterberg. He’s a regular at the Toronto International Film Festival, with five of his films featured over the years. His previous film, Kursk, was a little underwhelming, but Another Round is excellent.

The film stars Mads Mikkelsen as Martin, a high school teacher in Denmark who is part of a group of friends who are also teachers. They’re all miserable and moving through their lives very mechanically, lacking the spark or passion they once had in their work, families, or interests.

One night, while out to dinner together, a theory is raised that purports that human beings should constantly maintain a mild blood-alcohol content. Initially incredulous, desperation and curiosity lead the group to embark on an excusatory study of their “social and professional performance” while growing increasingly drunk for entire days.

The premise of watching teachers, who are enthusiastically inebriated, lead oblivious classes sounds pretty funny, but Another Round’s greatest strengths are in its tactful and delicate mixing of its comedy with authentic drama.

Despite the seemingly ridiculous premise, Vinterberg directs with restraint. The tone bounces around with ease, and rather than feeling erratic, each of its contrasting moods strengthens the other. Anything that’s easy to laugh at is always accompanied by discomfort in the back of your mind that keeps it all grounded.

That’s not to say it’s not still very entertaining. The humour comes pretty much entirely out of just watching the usually dour and unenthused characters come alive and somehow successfully fumble through awkward situations. The humour can sweep you up so much that the anxiety almost melts away, leaving you to question what the correct response is when it eventually pulls the rug out from under you.

It’s a fine balance to strike, and the film only works as well and as believably as it does because of the ensemble of fantastic elements. The script, co-written by Vinterberg, is very natural and understated.

Everyone in the cast puts in excellent and nuanced performances, but Mikkelsen is a standout. The cinematography and editing are excellent. The characters’ drunkenness is sometimes reflected in some interesting ways, but it’s never overbearing. Like most of the movie, it understands where the line between effective shock and showing off lies.

Usually, Another Round ends up doing a little too much, rather than going too far in any specific place.

The constant ups and downs can step on the toes of powerful moments a bit, especially near the ending. There are also a few moments when the film pushes your suspension of disbelief: characters delivering lectures to a more than mild student response is generally pretty unconvincing.

A lot of Another Round’s other power comes from its ruminations and interesting conclusions on the positives and negatives of alcohol, which tie further into themes of age, friendship, and conventions of masculinity.

Considering how morose it often is, the movie’s perspective on these ideas is surprising and refreshingly positive. It’s definitely not a celebration of alcohol use disorder, but it’s also not at the other extreme of that spectrum. It’s genuinely interesting to think about what the movie has to say.

Disclosure: Will Gotlib is a member of the Victoria College Council.