Synopsis: Druk/Another Round (Vinterberg, 2020) focuses on four friends that work as teachers at a local Swedish school that are all suffering from various levels of ennui. Martin (Mads Mikkelson), Nikolaj (Magnus Millang), Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), and Peter (Lars Ranthe) all feel unfulfilled, but they are all inspired by an audacious theory that suggests that a person’s blood-alcohol content is always too low. Thus, the four friends hatch an experiment to ensure that their blood-alcohol content is always at the optimal 0.5%. With that agreed, the group of friends start secretly drinking at work and at home in the pursuit of happiness and greater fulfilment, but at what cost…
At the heart of Thomas Vinterberg’s latest film is the husband, father and tutor, Martin (Mikkelson). Martin is described by another character as lacking joy and self-confidence, but more specifically he’s worn down and world-weary. I should caveat, that the specificity of all the male characters’ exhaustion is tied explicitly to their domestic lives and responsibilities. Martin and Nikolaj state that they feel like ‘shells of their former selves’. The majority of their moans and frustrations are all concerning their families. It’s almost as if caring for their children, doing household chores, or, god forbid, having a conversation with their wives, is too much to bear. Here, the film’s allusion is crystal clear, it explicitly suggests that a domestic life, is a castrated life.
Martin and Nikolaj’s wives, Anika (Maria Bonnevie) and Amalie (Helene Reingaard Neumann), are predominantly absent or rendered, by the writers/their husbands, as one-dimensional. These women lack any personality traits that aren’t about their families or husbands – they lack their own desires, wants or needs. In the film’s latter half, it’s revealed that Anika, Martin’s wife, has had an affair, but that’s in direct relation to Martin and the absence he created i.e. stepping back from his family life. As Anika says, “you’re never present.” For the brief time they appear, the female characters are portrayed and treated as nagging housewives.
As a fan of Mads Mikkelson, I desperately wanted to enjoy Another Round, which isn’t to say I loathed it or that it isn’t without its charms – it features some excellent performances from all four male leads. However, it sorely lacks any explicit criticism of the experiment or the actions and behaviours of its characters.
Now, there’s a part of me that would argue that the film shouldn’t need an explicit criticism of its morally dubious narrative, that the audience should be able to identify its problematic nature for themselves. The film understands the damaging effects alcohol misuse can have and (to some degree) portrays that. However, three of the four characters all come through their intoxicated adventure, relatively unscathed. Bizarrely, not only do they come through it, but their lives are seemingly improved.
For example, the film concludes with a wonderfully showy dance sequence from Mikkelson. In the film’s first scene, when all the friends are together, they joke about Martin studying jazz ballet when he was younger. In this early scene, Martin is pressured to show them his dancing, but he won’t because he lacks the confidence, the joie de vivre. It is Martin’s reckless misuse of alcohol that gives him the confidence to dance and thus rediscover his lust for life. What’s more, the four friends all empower their students, whilst under the influence of alcohol, to succeed in their chosen fields. This is exemplified by Martin’s students all feeling confident about passing their exams.
The film also explicitly tells us that both Martin and Nikolaj could only become good partners (again) by submitting themselves to the experiment. Miraculously and without any explanation, we learn that Nikolaj has reconnected with his wife and that things are better than ever. Similarly, with Martin, he starts receiving texts from Anika that suggest that she’s willing to give things another try, and again, all with little explanation. There’s no clear reason why either of these women would want their husbands back.
My biggest issue with the film is the ease with which it sweeps aside its female characters (and just as easily reunites them with their male counterparts). Why is it that Anika and Amalie are depicted so simplistically? I’m guessing that the decision was made because it makes Martin and Nikolaj’s motivations more plausible, and thus sympathetic i.e. Vinterberg had to give us a reason to empathise with Martin and Nikolaj, so he portrays the wives as emotionally draining. However, arguably the film would have been far richer if its female characters had been complicit in the extra-curricular activities. Sadly, Another Round has absolutely zero interest in exploring the lives and personalities of its female characters.
I don’t believe that Another Round is inherently sexist, nor is it an entirely bad or a poorly made film. However, its script is seemingly an endorsement of the experiment and its depiction of its female characters is deplorable. The decision to render these important figures as one-note caricatures was deliberate, and in my opinion, that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Druk/Another Round (Vinterberg, 2020) is being screened as part of the BFI’s London Film Festival from the 14 to 18 of October 2020. It will be available to watch via the BFI Player and in selected cinemas across the UK. Another Round is due for general release on the 20 November.