’Another Round,’ a not-so-sobering look at alcoholism
The Oscar-nominated “Another Round” is the rather too dignified translation of the Danish title, “Druk,” which means something closer to binge-drinking — for all its humor and exuberance, this is a film about hard-core alcoholism. As opening credits roll, we hear the sound of a drink being mixed and the first thing we see are cherubic teens participating in a beer bottle rally race. It generates a lot of camaraderie and vomit. A quartet of old friends who teach at the school view these ecstatic youths as a repudiation of their staid lives and decide to jump straight into their mid-life crises.
The pack leader is melancholy history professor Martin (Mads Mikkelsen), whose wife Anika (Maria Bonnevie) and two sons are unimpressed with his permanent air of hungover ennui. He meets up with his mates Nikolaj (Magnus Millang), Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), and Peter (Lars Ranthe) and they discuss a theory from philosopher Finn Skårderud, who feels that a constant blood alcohol level of .05 makes a person “poised, musical and open” at the exact moment between drunk and sober. Why not bring the sun-kissed boozing of your summer vacation to your day job?
Martin and co. goad each other on, saying stuff like, “Russia was built by men who drink and drive.” Hemingway is invoked repeatedly. They pledge to keep their blood-alcohol level at .05 and promise no drinking after 8 p.m. (ha!) but soon they’re secreting Smirnoff in their coffee cups, stashing bottles in utility closets, and buying breathalyzers to keep themselves on point. As a man of science, Nikolaj scientifically documents the gambit.
And at first it works like a charm — Martin gains popularity with students by lambasting Hitler for being a teetotaler while praising the prodigious tippler Winston Churchill. Tommy, the school’s youth soccer coach, hilariously refuses to share his water bottle with a thirsty tot on the pitch. Music teacher Peter finds the motivation to get his throaty charges singing the national anthem like angels. Director Thomas Vinterberg keeps the film moving along at a pleasantly brisk clip, with bright sunshiny exteriors contrasted with the darkness of deepening addiction and dependency.
Nickolaj notes the group’s “increased social and professional performance,” and asks, if feels good at .05, why not try the real ecstasy of .1? He predicts, “emancipating psychological effects,” but of course it’s something more like oblivion. One thirsty afternoon, he ignores his wife’s plea to buy fresh fish until the grocery store is out — naturally, the men decide to go fishing in the harbor for dinner. Soon Martin’s wife moves out, Nikolaj starts to wet the bed, and things gets even gloomier for Tommy.
“Another Round” incisively explores the Danish passion for overindulgence — Martin’s wife mutters, “This whole country drinks like maniacs,” and we feel that to be true. When you show up wasted to the meeting where the principal is trying to get to the bottom of who’s been drinking on the job, that’s a bad sign. Credit to the film for simultaneously making you very thirsty for a Sazerac at the same time you’re swearing up and down to never drink again.