It’s easily one of the most memorable images from this year’s London Film Festival. Mads Mikkelsen’s exuberant yet irony-tinged dance at the end of Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round is a fittingly intoxicating ending to a film that could all too easily be confined to the “mid-life crisis category”. And, if his footwork isn’t exactly up to Strictly standards, it doesn’t matter one bit.
In the first film Mikkelsen and Vinterberg have made together since The Hunt some eight years ago, the territory is markedly different. They’ve shifted from dark thriller to tragicomedy in this portrait of four men reaching middle age without knowing how they got there or why they’ve achieved so little. History teacher Martin (Mikkelsen) has lost his mojo professionally – his students have lodged a complaint about his teaching – and things aren’t much better at home, with his marriage on decidedly rocky ground. Over dinner with his three friends, one of them, philosophy teacher Nikolaj (Magnus Millang), expounds a theory that the human body lacks a crucial amount of alcohol to be totally healthy. So the four decide to conduct an experiment to prove it, one that involves regularly drinking during the day. It changes all of them, but for Martin it’s closer to a transformation.
“What is youth? A dream?” The middle aged quartet at the centre of the action wouldn’t hesitate to agree with the question posed at the start of the film, especially as their classes act as a constant reminder of the years they’ve put behind them. For Martin especially, it also reminds him of missed opportunities, but the regular nips of wine, vodka or whatever else comes to hand puts the sparkle back in his classes and gives his friends a new lease of teaching life as well. Sports master Tommy (Thomas Bo Larson) finds discovers a more understanding side, becoming something of a hero to a bullied little boy. But, inevitably, the four friends come to discover that their newly found inspiration comes at a price, one with an ugly downside and, ultimately, laden with tragedy.
All of which adds up to a tragicomedy in the truest sense of the word. Moments of genuine, laugh out loud humour – inevitably some of them drunken – sit side by side with unhappiness, darkness and worse. The tone changes regularly, but never feels forced or jarring and, even more remarkably, the four men and their problems in coming to grips with the changes that come with age are never the subject of ridicule. We laugh with them, not at them, and Vinterberg skilfully manages to embue them with completely understandable pathos, giving us an ending that isn’t just positive, but credibly so. He’s helped by a terrific performance from regular collaborator, Mikkelsen, as well as his three partners in drink, all of whom are distinct individuals and believable as long-standing friends.
It is, in truth, a very male-orientated experience, with most of the women on the sidelines and that is its number one weakness – even though one of the most heart stopping scenes is between Martin and his distant wife, played by Maria Bonnevie. Elsewhere, however, it successfully and delicately balances the laughter and the tears and, more importantly, the sadness and just the right level of optimism. And, of course, there’s the sheer pleasure of seeing Vinterberg and Mikkelsen working together again.
Drama, Comedy | 12A | StudioCanal | London Film Festival, 14 and 15 October 2020. In cinemas 27 November 2020 | Dir. Thomas Vinterberg | Mads Mikkelsen, Magnus Millang, Thomas Bo Larson, Lars Ranthe, Maria Bonnevie.