Another Round (2020)
Narrative layering is where multiple meanings are built into a film to reach different audiences. The Danish-made Another Round (2020) is a good example. It can be read as a critique of the global normalisation of alcohol abuse, or a case study in depression and mental health, or as a comedy about male mid-life stupidity, if not crisis.
The opening scenes show the extent to which alcohol is normalised and celebrated in Denmark. A high school graduation turns into an alcohol-soaked rite of passage that is condoned and encouraged by adults, foreshadowing a lifetime of heavy alcohol consumption and dependency. After one such graduation, we are introduced to four high school teachers whose lack of enthusiasm for teaching is palpable. One is a music teacher, another a sports master, one teaches psychology and one history. Tired sexless marriages, loss of agency and depleted career aspirations, plus the wear and tear of physical ageing, have made each teacher acutely cynical and devoid of what once drove them. While each contributes to the narrative, the film’s point of view is offered via the history teacher, Martin, (Mads Mikkelsen) who is a living billboard of mid-life depression.
When the stage is set, the film lays bare its central premise that is simple without being simplistic. Over drinks at a birthday gathering, the four teachers discuss a theory that human beings have a systemic alcohol deficit of 0.05% which prevents them achieving their potential for happiness in life. They agree to test the theory and secretly keep their blood alcohol level above 0.05% between 8am and 8pm. Predictably, they each begin to reclaim the mojo missing in their lives. So impressed are they with the effects of constant drinking, they agree to incrementally raise the bar until they are spending their teaching days clinically inebriated, all under the pretext of an experiment.
The comedic tension lies in how close they come to being discovered by authorities, friends and family. The story’s premise is on display when Martin shows the class archival footage of several world leaders – including Brezhnev, Gorbachev, Clinton, and Nixon – in advanced stages of intoxication while performing official duties. While it is funny to watch, it also shows the potential impact of alcoholism across a spectrum of individual, societal and global behaviour.
Some viewers will see this film as a judgemental lesson on the evils of alcohol; others will find humour in the adolescent mindset of four limp middle-aged males struggling with mid-life blues. There is also a compelling study of the pathway from depression to alcoholism. If a film can carry so many themes and still be entertaining then it is worth watching.
Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Stars: Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Lars Ranthe, Magnus Mila