Another Round Thomas Vinterberg (2020; Den, Neth, Swe) Mads Mikkelson, Thomas bo Larson, Magnus Millang, Lars Ranthe
Viewed Tyneside Cinema 14th Aug 2021; ticket £10.50
Vinterberg’s second feature ‘Festen’ worked as an uncompromising satire on the sacred shibboleths of family. Vinterberg’s script using the set piece of the celebratory occasion ripped into the image of the noble patriarch and the adoring family. OK so the idea is not dramatically new but the full frontal exposure of ‘the Daddy’ as a serial sexual molester of his children made for intense dramatic play given all the more edge by being wrapped in the black humour of Vinterberg’s scenario.
‘Another Round’ is made of gentler stuff. The satire’s softer and the scenario less focused than ‘Festen’. In this it does not belong in the company of those films that fill out the screen with a dominant monolithic obsession: La Grande Bouffe, Salo, Themroc, Empire of the Senses, Fitzcarraldo. Films that are magnificent in their unwavering moral commitment to play out their foundational logic. ‘Another Round’ instead starts from the perception of the intrinsically consumerist bourgeois nature of contemporary social relations, tinkers with the proposition of disrupting this state of affairs and signs off as a trite domestic drama, Vinterberg signalling the impossibility of escaping the moral and social relational webs endemic in Danish society today.
The incompatibility of the values underlying contemporary living and the traditional nineteenth century ideas about life in general and sex roles in particular, is exemplified in the Danish National Anthem, which functions as a leitmotif rendered as a shared choral experience throughout the film. The Danish Anthem, which is almost as ridiculous as the embarrassing British National Anthem, is like its British cousin, a Nineteenth Century chauvinistic comforting confection which is noteworthy for its omissions. Whilst lacking the imperialist conceits of the UK anthem, the Danish version also harkens to a Warrior Culture: “The armour dressed fighters rested from the fight…” But what the Danish lyrics don’t mention is that their warrior culture was endemically founded upon an ethos of huge alcohol consumption.
And alcohol consumption features as the core event in ‘Another Round’, the disrupting element. Vinterberg’s script points to a male identity problem in a society where Denmark is represented as a sort of sleepwalking clockwork world. Everyone has everything they need. In the interests of commerce, education and health, people get up have breakfast lunch dinner do their homework go to bed and get up again. There is no need for anything else. The protagonist Martin and his wife work different shifts so meet only in passing in the kitchen. The reduction of life to lists and routine. The Male, the Man Child, can become restless, then deadened. There is nothing for the warrior as represented in the National Anthem, and in Vinterberg’s scenario nothing to feed the spirit of his four teachers.
The Vikings were a drink culture, in which drink was expressly used to excess. At the core of this warrior culture was the ritual systematic use of alcohol to come to important decisions, achieve particular states of mind, particular types of insights. Such insights might be deluded or irrational, but by their own lights they were nonetheless valued. Toasting and boasting drinking continued until no one was left on their feet. In organised rhythmic drinking, in the commitment to getting drunk, bonds of solidarity were forged and violence and death were concomitant events. ‘Another Round’ opens with a celebration of the end of term exams involving the consumption of drink and leading to the expected outcome of overindulgence and events getting out of control. A traditional student alcoholic fuelled experience, but unlike the Viking precedent, the students’ drinking is used to let of steam, not as a ritualised committed part of living.
When the four male protagonists decide to take up the way of the bottle, their decision doesn’t stem from any cultural or literary imperative promoting alcohol as a means to escape from the constrictions of Middle Class Denmark; they are not inspired by a Muse, revelation an epiphany or a culture of excess . They take to drink at the suggestion of an academic psychiatrist who claims that a moderate amount of alcohol consumed daily will make them better workers more contented citizens. Very modern Danish. They take to drink because they hope for positive effects at the level of performance. Vinterberg’s spoof is that the alcohol experiment to which they they subscribe is legitimised, like most things in their culture, by an academic expert.
At this point Vinterberg has the possibility of developing a script with the sobering logic of the total destruction of self and others that alcohol can unleash. A logic that would have moral and social imperative of ripping apart the lives and bodies of the four teachers, but in this process perhaps revealing something deeper in the compact between individuals and society.
Vinterberg does not take the lesser trod path of moral logic. The alcohol experiment initially plays out fine for the protagonists. Life seems good, lived at an altered level of experiential reality. But things move into a darker register. After an extreme drinking episode the four protagonists get sober and realise that they do not have the bottle to continue with the alcohol experiment. One of the teachers dies. This is not seen as a good death in tune with the life experiment. Death, the ultimate fear of the bourgeoisie has a sobering effeect and Vinterberg’s script reverts to twee mode and like good little school boys the survivors eventually make up and return to their mechanical wives and kids.
Whilst resting in the gentlest of satiric niche, the Vinterberg’s movie feels like has thrown a stone into still water, waited until the ripples have subsided then switched off the camera: an anti-climax.