Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Saying “Skoal!” to “Another Round”

Danes of my acquaintance proudly note a global survey ranking them as the happiest nation on earth. (They were less happy during my 2017 visit, because they’d been beaten out of the top spot on this annual survey by their Norwegian neighbors.)  Having just seen Thomas Vinterberg’s Oscar-nominated Another Round, I’m now wondering whether all that Danish happiness stems from the fact that Danes go through life half-sloshed.

 Or so it appears from Vinterberg’s film, which corroborates some rather alarming statistics about drinking among Danish teens. Another Round opens with cheery pop music playing as a group of wholesome-looking Danish youth participate in something called the Lake Run. Teams of young people dash around a lake, following rules that have them chugging bottles of beer at regular intervals, ending up with a crate full of empties. It’s played like good clean fun, even when some of the contestants upchuck. No harm done: when it’s over, everyone celebrates, then moves on.

 But Another Round is not really about teenagers. Its focus is on four middle-aged men who are teachers at a local Danish high school. When we first meet them, they’ve gathered in a posh restaurant for the celebration of a fortieth birthday. Two of the men are single, at least one unhappily so. The birthday boy, a science teacher, is chafing under the pressure of a home life that includes three very young children, all seemingly inclined to pee in his bed. Then there’s the longtime history teacher, Martin, who’s played by Vinterberg favorite Mads Mikkelsen. Once an academic firebrand with a yen for modern dance, he’s now settled into a morose existence both in the classroom and at home. His wife balefully admits he is no longer the vibrant young man she married.

 At that pivotal birthday party, one of the men presents the half-baked theory of a Norwegian scholar that human beings need the constant presence of alcohol in their systems for maximum efficiency. Thus begins an experiment in secret daily drinking, one with profoundly mixed results. On the one hand, Martin and the others feel more invigorated, more creative, more attractive. Scenes of the four men together show them re-discovering the joie de vie of their youthful selves, frolicking through the city without stodgy inhibitions.  They’re also more dynamic in their classrooms, and Martin’s domestic life perks up when he takes the family on a camping vacation.

 Inevitably, though, problems creep into their happy new lives. Marriages wobble, school administrators get wind of their misbehavior, and one of the four teachers comes to a crossroad that ends tragically. Lesson learned, right? The experiment stops abruptly, and everyone lives happily ever after?

 Perhaps the most memorable part of this film is its ending, with teachers and students out by the harbor, celebrating graduation day. The kids are happily passing around the brewskis, looking forward to their future lives. They hail their teachers (still in pallbearer garb) as heroes and pals, urging them to drink up. It’s at this point that Martin—on the brink of making amends in his marital life—turns into the life of the party. With no prompting from anyone, he suddenly goes into a wild exhibition of jazz dance, culminating with an exuberant leap toward the bay below.  Freeze frame. He’s half celebrating, half drowning, and this film is honest enough to see both possibilities. Hollywood has treated alcohol (in such films as The Lost Weekend and The Days of Wine and Roses) as a dangerous drug. Vinterberg sees the same thing, but is honest enough to show the other side as well.




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