Another Round / Druk London Film Festival 2020 Movie Review
Druk (“Another Round”) is the latest feature from Danish director and Dogme 95 co-founder Thomas Vinterberg, reuniting him and actor Mads Mikkelsen some eight years after the Oscar-nominated Jagten (“The Hunt”). This dark comedy follows four disillusioned high school teachers who decide to rejuvenate their lives by embarking on an elaborate drinking game.
Martin (Mads Mikkelsen), Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), Peter (Lars Ranthe) and Nikolaj (Magnus Millang) are all in a mid-life limbo, with the lead, Martin, increasingly isolated from his wife and children, mocked by his students, and reconsidering his life choices. Following an enjoyably boozy birthday meal, all four agree to engage in an experiment based on the work of a Norwegian psychologist, who claims humans are born with a deficit of 0.05% blood alcohol.
Faced with the four characters’ pathetic plights, the audience easily begins to root for them as they unleash their new selves upon the world. The early scenes are brilliantly funny, with the four adjusting to their new inebriated states during their school lessons, and are uplifting for the characters as they take their new-found confidence to help engage better with their students and lives outside of class. The physical humour is uncannily inspired, with the actors perfectly embodying the swaying bodies, alcohol-fuelled swagger and the odd bumping into walls and collapsing that occurs. Mads Mikkelsen in particular, effortlessly captures the progression of Martin, from lifeless to boisterously playful, along with more subtle levels of anguish, despair and catharsis.
Despite the comedy, a sense of dread builds as their plans become perilously close to being uncovered. The film slowly cranks up the tension as they progress from Hemingway rules (no drinking after 8 pm or at weekends) to Tchaikovsky approach (adjusting alcohol levels for optimal social and mental ability) to last but definitely not least, the Total Oblivion – maximum blood alcohol level. While they attest to their drinking being a scientific experiment, they begin to fool themselves into the logic of it, with increasingly farcical reasoning to go further and further.
As the film has been hinting, this ship they’ve embarked upon can only come crashing down on the rocks, with the first incident after the Total Oblivion, leading to the study ending “due to immense, negative social effects and the danger of alcoholism”. The event that leads to this, results in Martin’s separating from his wife, Nikolaj crawling into bed with his wife and wetting himself, while it leads Tommy down an even more dangerous route. In the face of a horrifically bleak ending, the film comes full circle with the friends in the harsh daylight, celebrating the successes of their students and culminating with an cathartic, impromptu jazz ballet dance piece from Mads Mikkelsen.
While mostly adhering to a realistic style, with hand-held camerawork, natural lighting and a simple setting, warm colours and flare are subtly added to the drinking scenes to emphasise their enticing nature. On top of that, the rising pressure and descent of the quartet is incredibly well matched by the cinematography of each of the seasons. The documentary-style is further heightened by the silent movie style black dialogue cards that flash up, alerting the audience to the various characters’ blood alcohol levels, as well as the short clips of various politicians famous for their drinking, such as Yeltsin, Sarkozy and even Boris Johnson.
This bittersweet tragicomedy is a meditation on attitudes to alcohol, ageing and masculinity in a nation that “drinks like maniacs”. While we see the bright positives and the grim negatives of intoxication, Druk instead wants to focus on why people turn to such destructive behaviour – is it boredom, stress or the desire to re-engage with their lives? In one sense, the alcohol is merely the springboard from which to take a deep look into the male psyche through these four very different characters.
While the quartet’s humorous, yet brutal trials and tribulations with alcohol set the scene, Druk is a bold examination of the thirst for life, love and friendship.