Mads Mikkelsen Shines in Denmark’s Latest Oscar-winner for Best International Feature

by Hassan Ilahi

Alcoholism is an agonizing addiction with disastrous consequences that are often downplayed in movies. Hollywood has long been criticized for celebrating alcohol consumption. Films about substance abuse often focus on its positive short-term rewards rather than painful long-term effects. For example, in famous films such as The Wolf of Wall Street drinking is portrayed as an entertaining recreational activity without detrimental repercussions. However, research indicates that this unrealistic depiction of alcohol can harm teenagers. Not only does it double the likelihood that adolescents will participate in underage drinking, but it cultivates misconceptions of alcoholism. How does it truly feel to battle one of the world’s deadliest addictions today?

The intoxicating highs and excruciating lows of alcoholism are beautifully brought to life in Thomas Vinterberg’s latest Oscar-winning film Another Round. A darkly comic, heartwarming and profound drama, it offers an insightful glimpse at Danish drinking culture. With his eleventh feature, writer/director Thomas Vinterberg investigates alcohol addiction from a tragicomic perspective. Packed with exquisite production values, engrossing storytelling and phenomenal performances, it is one of the year’s best movies. Although Another Round is undeniably unforgettable, ultimately it is not a flawless film. It builds to an exaggerated ending that sugar-coats alcohol. Nonetheless, it offers thoughtful entertainment that will satisfy fans of art-house Cinema.

Set in Copenhagen, Another Round follows four friends that perform an experiment to determine whether drinking will improve their well-being. Mads Mikkelsen stars in the lead role as Martin, a depressed high-school teacher in a mid-life crisis. As a way out of misery, Martin and his friends conduct an experiment that involves maintaining a constant blood-alcohol level everyday. However, what starts as a fun activity soon turns harmful when consequences arise. As Martin’s health worsens, he questions whether alcohol will save his life.

Writer/director Thomas Vinterberg is a newcomer to alcohol addiction. Ever since he attained worldwide recognition with The Celebration in 1998, Vinterberg has become a distinguished Danish filmmaker. His films are often characterized by hand-held cinematography, onscreen text and a tragicomic style that blends humor with tragedy. With Another Round, however, Vinterberg has crafted his first alcohol drama. It’s the filmmaker’s first attempt to dramatize the experiences of alcohol addicts in Denmark, but he pulls it off seamlessly. Using spellbinding cinematography, Vinterberg draws viewers into the lives of four friends that partake in an adventurous alcohol experiment. Vinterberg’s decision to shoot the drunk sequences using hand-held camera is risky, but it works immensely. Working alongside cinematographer Sturla Brandt Grøvlen, Vinterberg successfully uses shaky hand-held cinematography to immerse viewers into the drunken stupor of characters. Vinterberg excels at immersing viewers into an alcoholic’s mindset, and his latest feature is worth watching for this reason alone.

If stories of booze-addled teachers do not attract your attention, though, there are still plenty of other reasons to watch Another Round. Vinterberg excels at utilizing onscreen words to demonstrate the repercussions of alcohol addiction. Vinterberg successfully employs onscreen text throughout the film to convey dangers of drinking. Like the noisy alarm clock that wakes one up in the morning, the onscreen text represents a wake-up call for the repercussions of drinking. For instance, onscreen text is utilized particularly well to signify danger in sequences where the friends’ blood-alcohol levels increase. Using this inventive technique, Vinterberg gives viewers an understanding of drinking’s effects on the mind. Moreover, the musical score is also worth lauding. Janus Billeskov Jansen’s score is sublime. It gives the film a cheerful and jovial atmosphere. Through impressive production values, Vinterberg keeps viewers absorbed in lives of addicts.

Another extraordinary aspect of Another Round is the screenplay. Vinterberg’s greatest strength as a screenwriter is his ability to create a balanced depiction of alcohol addiction using tragicomedy. In Hollywood, most movies about alcoholics often focus on the benefits of their lifestyles rather than its ramifications. This tends to make alcoholism appear attractive and creates misunderstandings of the addiction. Thankfully, though, that is definitely not the case with Another Round. Vinterberg wisely avoids glorifying the alcoholic lifestyle. Instead, he shows both the good and bad side of alcoholism by combining tragedy with comedy. At times, the movie is hilarious particularly during the scenes where the four friends are drunk in initial stages of the experiment. However, the movie is simultaneously also sad and melancholic in its depiction of alcoholism’s consequences. By blending tragedy with comedy, Vinterberg strikes a fine balance between celebrating and condemning the alcoholic lifestyle. Despite their reckless choices, Vinterberg crafts compelling drunkard characters whom viewers can easily empathize with. Tragicomedy is a tricky technique to employ successfully in foreign-language films. However, it works tremendously in this movie. Using an intellectual script, Vinterberg keeps viewers engrossed in drinking culture.

It is hard to not praise the phenomenal performances from the cast.

Mads Mikkelsen delivers one of the best performances of his career as Martin. Mikkelsen is most famous for playing sadistic villains in action blockbusters (ex. 2006’s Casino Royale). With Another Round, however, he takes on his most complex role to date. It is not easy to get into the mindset of a middle-aged teacher that is afflicted with alcohol addiction. It’s a demanding role that requires the actor to constantly shift between being in a state of intoxication and sobriety. However, Mikkelsen pulls it off effortlessly. With riveting expressions, he conveys the angst, impulsivity and reckless abandon of a teacher that uses alcohol to enliven his life. It’s a brilliant performance from one of Denmark’s greatest actors.

The supporting cast is superb and builds a brotherly friendship. Thomas Bo Larsen is terrific and imbues heartfelt emotion into the vulnerable friend that falls victim to alcohol addiction. Magnus Millang is magnificent and brings palpable mischief to the movie as the group’s troublemaker that pitches the drinking experiment. And finally, it is hard to not mention Lars Ranthe. As a rebellious teacher, he brings comical relief to the movie.

Despite its marvelous performances, however, it’s unfortunate that the sparkling strengths of Another Round fizzle out towards its end. If there’s a minor misstep to the movie, it suffers from a misjudged conclusion. Vinterberg’s decision to conclude the movie with a drunk dance celebration sequence is bold and unexpected, but it doesn’t entirely work. It’s a tonally jarring finale that overwhelms viewers with its alcohol-overcomes-life-adversities message. Whereas this dance sequence worked for a film like The Wolf of Wall Street, it feels out-of-place with the balanced depiction of drinking in this film. Furthermore, the movie might not please everyone. The movie tackles controversial subjects such as alcohol addiction, depression and suicide that may disturb certain viewers. Due to its harrowing subject, “Another Round” may not satisfy mainstream audiences.

Nevertheless, fans of Danish films will definitely enjoy Another Round and so will movie-goers seeking thought-provoking entertainment. An intoxicating achievement, it aims to transform the general understanding of alcoholism. As a portrait of a painful addiction, one hopes that its depiction of drinking will teach modern-day alcoholics that having another round isn’t always the greatest solution to life.

Hassan’s Grade:  A-