(ANOTHER ROUND premieres in limited theatres 21.5.)
Life crept up on us
Martin, Tommy, Peter, and Nikolaj are lifelong friends, now teaching together at a local high school in Denmark. Middle age has crept up on them, leaving each in a state of ennui and loss. As Nikolaj celebrates his fortieth birthday, Martin breaks down. There doesn’t seem to be anything left in the world for them. No joy, no inspiration or love.
It’s here that Nikolaj tells them of a thought experiment he read. Everyone in the world has too little alcohol in their blood, which prevents us from being the people we truly could be. With no alternatives in sight, the quartet decides to give it a go. The plan is to drink every day during business hours, no later than eight in the evening, and never going over 0,5% of alcohol in the body. Naturally, not everything goes as planned.
Once we were
Directed by Thomas Vinterberg, who made the brilliant THE HUNT with lead actor Mads Mikkelsen back in 2012, where Mikkelsen plays a man falsely accused by a small town unable to move past their prejudices. Here, they channel similar trapped energy to Martin, a man incapable of recovering from the nostalgia weighing him down.
Mikkelsen, as always, is superlative. He plays a former dancer, and there’s a marvelous way his posture and movement look light on his feet even as the weight on his shoulders prevents him from dancing like he once did. He carries an unseen burden, which mostly feels self-made, and he can’t remember when such a load appeared on his back.
So when alcohol presents itself as a temporary solution to forget his troubles, Martin dives right into the opportunity. He’s funnier, more social, more acutely aware of his surroundings up to a point. But as with all spirits, the cost of what are supposed to be short spurts quickly comes apparent — especially as you’re older. It’s not long before his family and colleagues not in on the project start to question his drinking habits.
Can we go again
I find it fascinating that ANOTHER ROUND has become a poster child of revitalized joie de vivre as if Martin and his friends are examples we should follow. To me, Vinterberg’s brilliant film is more melancholy than anything, a kind of last hurrah for a youth we wished we had. This kind of midlife crisis was previously explored in the fantastic LA BELLE EPOQUE, where a far older man can’t let go of the days of youth, even as his memory of them is fleeting.
It’s no mistake that most of ANOTHER ROUND takes place at the cusp of summer. It’s a magical time in the Nordics, where the long dark of winter finally lets loose, and young people graduate from school for a summer of freedom and a future of opportunity. Everything is in bloom, and it easily evokes nostalgia in everyone.
For Martin, it represents a time he let slip by, and his attempts at regaining it becomes central to his boozy new lifestyle. He books a camping trip for his family and has sex with his wife under the stars. His style goes from suits to the more carefree, rock-n-roll smoldering that has made Mikkelsen an unexpected sex symbol. None of these are things that couldn’t happen organically, but Martin seems drawn to them more out of duty than desire. This is what he once was; what is he now, if not that?
A dynamic duo
While beautifully acted by everyone involved, this is inherently Mikkelsen’s show. Vinterberg understands the importance of his lead actors’ physical geography; Mikkelsen is a miracle even standing still. In the beginning, he wants to break from the monotony but cannot, and the pain barely hides behind his eyes at every fleeting moment. If he blinks, he might just cry. Vinterberg catches the glimmer from the tears, and it’s as heartbreaking as anything you’ll see all year.
It’s also a very nordic film, deeply invested in the part of our shared drinking culture that’s almost pervasive in this part of the world. Alcohol is everywhere from an early age, and it’s the lubricant that both keeps us going and rots our gears before long. Watch as Vinterberg subtly foreshadows the descent already in the very first shared dinner, as the men go quickly from the accepted cultured red wine to hard liquor as their bodies warm.
Et in Arcadia ego
ANOTHER ROUND could easily have become a paean for navel-gazing self-discovery for people who have it good but want better, like in the deplorable THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY. Instead, it’s soulful and tender, never judging its leads even as they wreck themselves in pursuit of something nonexistent.
It left me in a state of soothing melancholy as I realized I’m quickly approaching the age where I’ll look back and think of my childhood as Arcadia. Like Martin and his friends, I understand the sadness of wanting to go back and redo things better — especially now that I’m more intelligent and emotionally stable. But that’s not how life works, and Vinterberg catches these realizations with wry and gentle humor.
That’s because ANOTHER ROUND isn’t so much a celebration as it is an elegy. When Martin, the former ballet dancer now uncertain of his every step, finally dances, there’s as much desperation as there is joy. His dance is clumsy in a way he once wasn’t, earnest in a way he can only be now, and free in a way he had forgotten. His students will one day dance like that themselves. When they look back and remember how quickly these summers pass us.