Another Round (Druk), a Danish film directed and co-written by Thomas Vinterberg, is everything I imagine a tragicomedy to be, and more. The story is exciting: four male, middle-aged high-school teachers decide to check if there is any truth to psychiatrist Finn Skårderud's theory that human beings are born with a blood alcohol content that is 0.05% too low, and that a mild intake of alcohol makes one more tranquil and creative.
For non-Danish speakers, Another Round is not, in the slightest, less mesmerising when watched with subtitles. The film starts off in high spirits with a mob of youngsters partaking in what is called the "Lake Race". The camera runs as though it is a partaker itself and sets out a vibrant picture of teenagers scurrying around the lake, prying beer bottles open and drinking without a care for the world. Faintly playing in the background, "What A Life" by Scarlet Pleasure beautifully takes over the scene now. I am using all the veins and muscles in my body to refrain from expressing the utter admiration I feel for this extraordinary song; I am putting it aside for the end.
The film transitions with gentleness, seamlessly setting the stage for what is to follow. One of the initial scenes shows our four men Martin (Mads Mikkelsen), Nikolaj (Magnus Millang), Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen) and Peter (Lars Ranthe) at a dinner celebrating Nikolaj's fortieth birthday. It is here that Skårderud's theory is first discussed. The following scene shows Nikolaj asking the waiter for a "really, really, really good glass of wine" for Martin, paving way for the viewers' first encounter with disinhibition via alcohol consumption in the film. Martin's eyes well up as he slugs down the wine in one go; the camera, as though sitting comfortably in the centre of the table, pans across the four sad, time-worn, banal men. "I don't know how I ended up like this," Martin opens his heart to the three as he guzzles more wine; Martin no longer struggles to be a part of the conversation around the table, he is the conversation now.
The film offers the audience an intoxicated lens to view the world with. One of the most endearing scenes in the film is when Martin, who teaches history, gives his students three candidates to choose from as their leader: the first candidate drank too many martinis, the second smoked cigars non-stop and drank incredible amounts of champagne, the third drank beer only on rare occasions and never smoked. Here the storytelling indulges in speculation, and plays with the audience's expectation. Everyone is rooting for the same answer; the story expects that and knows that. Upon the students unanimously selecting the third candidate, the film swiftly launches into a revelation, sparing no time for you to re-think. Martin runs to the desk and eagerly says, "Oh boy! You just discarded Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston L. Churchill and thankfully elected this guy," pulling out a black-and-white photograph of Adolf Hitler. Here the writers, Tobias Lindholm and Thomas Vinterberg, take caution that the audience does not miss the point; Martin explicitly spells it out: "The world is never as you expect."
The lure of this film is in its four middle-aged men who, if not failing, are also not excelling at anything–whether it be their personal, social or professional lives. They desperately lack an incentive to be – there is no better word – happy. And alcohol is the stimulant they decide to experiment with. One of the most stunning scenes in the film is where the four secretly assemble in the gym depot at school and Martin confesses that he hadn't felt that good in ages. Hinged at Martin, the camera does not move, and neither does the actor as he goes on to say, "I think there's more to this. Maybe even going a bit higher." While being conscious of the happiness, there is also, at heart, the sad realisation that the happiness is alcohol-induced and not something that has come about naturally. I would describe this film as one that is loyal to its genre of tragicomedy–tragic, yet it doesn't fail to amuse the audience. The real stunner, though, is the scene where the four gather at Nikolaj's place and push the envelope by taking the experiment to a whole new level–drinking to the "point of ignition . . . and beyond." Nikolaj calls it "the ultimate catharsis," a space of "total oblivion". The film indulges in the hangover in a light-hearted manner, and for an instance prods the audience to forget the inevitable ramifications that come to life soon.
The final scene, I cannot emphasise enough, is magnificent, brilliant and just awe-inspiring. Mads Mikkelsen's fluid dance moves, carefree teenagers jumping and swirling in the street, and champagne in the air marks the ending scene. "What A Life" by Scarlet Pleasure, however, without a doubt, steals the show. The song, even by itself, is zestful, to say the least. Here is one verse in the song that perfectly brings to life the essence of the film:
"I am so thrilled right now
'Cause I'm poppin' right now
Don't wanna worry 'bout a thing
But it makes me terrified
To be on the other side
How long before I go insane?"
The film closes with a still depicting Martin in the air, about to hurl himself into the harbour. The audience does not know what is to follow and neither does Martin himself. Contrary to the increasing preoccupation with viewing things "on the whole," i.e., placing small instances in a larger scheme of things, the gift of this film is its brilliant "microscopic" vision. It effectively zooms into the "trance" that people slip into on consuming alcohol and blurs everything else at that moment. In this sense, the movie-watching experience becomes equivalent to the feeling of drunkenness. The story is fresh and exciting; it plays with the audience's assumptions but also acknowledges and puts faith in their intelligence. Another Round should not be mistaken to be a film about alcoholism or merely drinking. It is far more than that.