Thomas that of Vinterberg Festen left me stunned at the movies in 1998 with its brilliant portrayal of an incestuous and viciously glamorous family imploding at Christmas. At the time, I hoped my Danish mother had never seen what looked for all intents and purposes like a family movie about her old life in Copenhagen.
More than twenty years later, Vinterberg did it again with Another round, a dark comedy about four high school teachers going through their midlife seizures drinking their way through routine classes and boring family dinners. The result was an Oscar-winning masterpiece that was at times tender, horrible and ridiculous. It is also a fairly accurate portrait of the Danes, a very white population, very homogeneous economically, which has the highest rate of alcohol consumption in Europe. Almost all of my mother’s family had alcohol problems.
The director stuck to the principles he designed with Lars von Trier during their 95 Dogma Days – no special effects, no artificial lighting, the only music heard is to be played in the scene, not added later. This means that in a beautifully controlled scene, our heroes, free from their wives and children, get cast and dance all over the living room to ’60s funk from The Meters’. Cissy strut; on another occasion they discuss how drunk Schubert was when he wrote Fantasy in F minor. Danish pop group Scarlet Pleasures perform the final song, What a life, on an extraordinary stage where graduate students celebrate drunk in the port of Copenhagen, joined by their professors in funeral attire. The song has become a popular drinking song …
The director refrains from moralizing on the dangers of alcohol, Another round is ambivalent, showing both its positive effects and great damage. Similar in many ways to that of Vinterberg The hunt, who depicts a teacher struggling with a charge of child abuse, what is really at stake here is a portrait of Denmark as a nation that is both insular and generous, believing itself to be liberal but governed by unspoken and rigid social codes.
Even though it is an ensemble piece with superb naturalistic performances from all concerned, Mads Mikkelsen gets the most screen time. His history lessons range from reading regurgitated notes to invigorating quizzes once he’s under the influence; we watch a vein near his eye swell as this experience with alcohol resuscitates both his life and threatens to end it. And Mikkelsen reminds us of his old life as a dancer and gymnast which made me want to see him paired with Christopher Walken in a ballroom.
This Blu-ray edition captures Vinterberg’s signature style – gorgeous hand-held camera work and a subtle unfolding of the actual locations beautifully. There aren’t many extras, an interview with the director and star at Cannes is low key but well worth watching.