Thomas Vinterberg’s cinema is one-of-a-kind. If we happen to observe his short yet vivid filmography, the Dogme95-founding filmmaker’s style is distinctively auteurial, even when the stories happen to be adaptations or are based on real events. Vinterberg is known to marry dark themes onto deeply emotional templates without veering into mind-numbing melodrama. The director’s discreet manner of critiquing society is the hallmark of his unique brand of cinema – which, I confess, is a personal favourite. Therefore, when Vinterberg returns with his latest offering Another Round (Druk in Danish), I have profound reasons to revel.

Another Round is about four male schoolteachers Martin (Mads Mikkelsen), Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), Peter (Lars Ranthe), and Nikolaj (Magnus Millang). Dabbling with typical middle-age woes of familial, professional, and social nature, the foursome makes an eventful decision at Nikolaj’s 40th birthday party. They announce to take up a pseudoscientific experiment as proposed by Norwegian psychiatrist Finn Skarderud. The deal is to consume alcohol in such a way that it remains precisely 0.05% of one’s blood-alcohol content. This exercise, as interpreted by the men, was bound to transform their lives. Inspired by Ernest Hemingway, the four friends agree upon an 8 pm curfew besides a rule to shun alcohol over the weekend.

Predictably enough, lives change for each of them. It’s as if their mojo from the youth resurfaced. The anchor of the story, Martin, a history teacher, finds himself winning over his students as well as his family. Physical education teacher Tommy is seen coaching his soccer team like he never managed in years. The changes are decidedly sudden but there comes a point when the overjoyed men decide to fuel up their alcohol intake. This leads them to a bottomless pit of alcoholism thereby jeopardizing all areas of their lives.

More than a cautionary tale on the vices of alcohol intake, Another Round operates as a chronicle of midlife crises. It throws light on why the men would want the thrill of alcohol without analyzing the outcomes. Vinterberg refuses to give a clinical perspective to the experiment that his protagonists follow. It is this very naivety of his characters that help the narrative flourish with empathy and believability.

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Another Round skillfully discusses Martin’s family ties, even though on a mild note. The status quo could well be representational of a vast subset of families that expect the system to be self-sustaining after years of togetherness. Vinterberg understatedly explains how legal relationships require maintenance, which is additionally explored through Nikolaj’s struggle at home with young children. When Peter convinces a severely anxious student to take a sip of alcohol before appearing for the viva voce, we sense the source of his security and confidence.

Despite the bizarre concoctions that his cinema often is, Thomas Vinterberg has broadly been a conformist. His films frequently asserted the need for redemption and Another Round is no exception. When the time arrives to show how the alcohol experiment has to go severely awry, the filmmaker peppers his narrative with moments that shock and embarrass. Cases in point are the scenes where Martin hits the staff room door injuring his nose and Nikolaj urinating in bed to his wife’s utter dismay. With a setup that is far from dystopian (like, say, The Hangover), Vinterberg makes sure we nurture affection and protectiveness for his temporarily delinquent protagonists.

Playing Martin with oodles of vulnerability is Vinterberg’s leading man from Jagten, Mads Mikkelsen. His chiseled facial features, sedate body language, and poignant expressions work wonders in completing the character arc – which also involves an exuberant dance piece. Before you know it, he catches you unawares with his finite understanding of a very complex part. Magnus Millang, Thomas Bo Larsen, and Lars Ranthe lend him splendid support in disparate, supremely well-performed parts. Then there’s alcohol – gallons of it – being poured and consumed throughout the film. So much so that it works as a crucial cast member who gives the story a new dimension every time it makes an appearance.

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The world remembers Thomas Vinterberg for kicking off the revolutionary Dogme 95 – an attempt to instill naturalism in cinema – which was first seen in his widely garlanded 1995 film Festen. In Another Round, I see mild influences of what must be the filmmaker’s natural tendency. Vinterberg’s scene staging is such that he makes ample use of spaces with the camera refusing to cut. Rather it chooses to caress one face after the other, giving us a fine glimpse of the place they are at. Contradicting this statement is the use of the soundtrack – a splendid one by Janus Billeskov Jansen. To add to it, I could also see how the DOP (Sturla Brandth Grøvlen) lights up the classrooms and playgrounds differently in the pre and post-alcohol sequences – something that the Dogme 95 propagator in Vinterberg might not have approved of, back in the day.

Having said that, the most delightful chapter in this tragicomedy is the closing sequence. Vinterberg intersperses conflicting emotions (grief, relief, and celebration) without making them appear flippant. As Martin dances gleefully with his freshly graduated students, we look at him with awe and thrill. We do not erase the grief he has curbed within but there is also the happiness of his family life taking off yet again. It is a compound mishmash of feelings and Vinterberg skillfully expresses it all through Martin’s happy-dance.

Rating: ★★★★

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