This is a difficult film to watch if you are concerned about your own alcohol consumption. The basic idea in the plot is that steadily drinking to keep a certain level of alcohol in the bloodstream could be beneficial to general performance at work. It is quoted as a finding by the Norwegian psycho-therapist Finn Skårderud. The idea is not scientific but a misinterpretation of something the ‘real’ Skårderud wrote. Here it is adopted by a group of four (male) teachers at a Danish high school. This happens because one of the group admits to his colleague that he appears to be losing his touch and that his students find him boring. When the ‘scientific theory’ is propounded he and his three colleagues, who are getting drunk together at a 40th birthday meal, decide to see if it is really true. At first, it seems to work and the student responses improve. We see this in the interactions between students and the four teachers in their classrooms and out on the playing field in the case of PE Teacher Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen).
Mads Mikkelsen is the history teacher Martin and it is he who is initially facing the crisis because his modern history course doesn’t engage his students. Nikolaj (Magnus Millang) is the psychology teacher who makes the initial suggestion and Peter (Lars Ranthe) is the music teacher. We spend time mainly with the top class in the school who are approaching their graduation exams but Tommy seems to be on the playing fields with much younger children. Before watching the DVD I skimmed through the extras and I was struck by director Thomas Vinterberg recalling his 2012 film The Hunt which also starred Mikkelsen and Larsen and was also co-scripted by Tobias Lindholm. Another Round, I see now, is indeed related to the earlier film (in which Mikkelsen also played a teacher, this time accused of inappropriate behaviour towards a young girl). The difference is that we experience the dangers of excessive drinking from within the group of four friends rather than the external observation of a community bearing down on an accused but innocent man.
I’ve read a selection of reviews of this film which has won many awards (including those for Best International Film at both the Oscar and BAFTA ceremonies) as well as many positive responses from critics. I’m struck by two aspects of the film. Firstly, I was expecting some kind of concern from reviewers about the drunken behaviour in the film and in particular the drinking by the teachers at work and by the students celebrating their graduation. The narrative progression is inevitable, the four men eventually decide to investigate that mythical moment when enough alcohol has been consumed to reach the limit at which the calmness and freedom from restraint enables someone to perform at the top of their game. Another drink and disaster ensues. I was surprised by the generally sensible takes by critics on this. Perhaps I chose my reviewers carefully but I had expected some criticism. I don’t have any moral stance on this as such but I did find the inevitable drunken behaviour very unpleasant to watch, especially a scene in a supermarket where mayhem ensues because of lack of control. Perhaps the real question is about how we all respond to drunkenness. Do we find it amusing up to a certain point and then suddenly switch to thinking about how dangerous and troubling it is?
The other point is that US and UK critics/reviewers don’t seem to comment on the ‘Danishness’ of the film. On a simple level, if you’ve never attempted to buy an alcoholic drink in Denmark you might be amazed by how much booze costs in a bar or a restaurant. They must pay teachers very well. Excessive drinking seems to be a Scandinavian trait. Certainly, in films from Denmark, Sweden and Norway, drink can be a problem. It’s interesting to see this in relation to the UK. I’m reflecting on UK educational institutions which now seem rather sober places compared to the ‘Friday’ tradition in schools and colleges that I remember from the 1970s and 1980s when many of the staff would visit a pub on Friday lunchtime as a social occasion. I’m not saying teachers got drunk, rather that I don’t think the actual social gathering would be tolerated today. It was actually quite good for morale I think.
The teachers’ behaviour is eventually noticed in their high school, which seems a liberal institution and a pleasant place to work. The location appears to be Gentofte, a small town in the Northern outer suburban region of Copenhagen. In much the same way that The Hunt explored the dichotomies of Danish society with its welfare state and generally liberal social values, but still with traditional pursuits such as hunting, here we have a tolerance of behaviour associated with alcohol – but also a recognition that it can be damaging in terms of social behaviour and can be used to mask personal fears of loneliness and inadequacy. As at least one reviewer points out, the narrative is about four men dealing or not with a form of mid-life crisis.
The film is defined in various places as a comedy-drama. It is certainly a drama and it isn’t really a spoiler to reveal that there are both marital issues and mental health problems associated with the experiment. Two of the men were once married and the other two create problems by their drinking. On the other hand the narrative resolution which coincides with the end of the school year does have a ‘feelgood’ aspect. But I didn’t find this to be a comedy. I admire the film a great deal and it looks great on screen but I found it more of a social commentary. I’m wondering now whether it should have been much darker? It might be interesting to consider Vinterberg’s three films, The Hunt, The Commune (2016) and Another Round together as commentaries on the conflicts within Danish society? Another Danish ‘comedy drama’, The Word of God (2017) might also be an interesting pairing with Another Round. Another Round is widely available on physical media and on streaming services.
Agree this is a tricky watch! But enjoyed it, some brilliant performances