‘Another Round’: Mads Mikkelsen & Thomas Vinterberg Talk Serving Up Denmark’s “Embracement Of Life” Box Office Smash & Oscar Entry
The drama has an intriguing premise: four weary high school teachers test the theory that a constant level of modest inebriation opens our minds to the world. The friends experience a journey of self-discovery with both tragic and uplifting consequences.
It has been a runaway smash in Denmark, with over 800K tickets sold, becoming Vinterberg’s best performance ever there and the No. 1 movie of the year. Samuel Goldwyn released this past weekend in U.S. theaters; it will hit digital platforms on December 18.
Another Round reunites Vinterberg with The Hunt’s Mikkelsen as well as frequent writing partner Tobias Lindholm.. It would have premiered at the Cannes Film Festival had the event not been kiboshed by Covid this year. Instead, it made its world premiere — remotely — at the Toronto Film Festival in September, just prior to its release in Denmark.
Awards accolades to date include the French Art House Cinema Prize, the Silver Shell for Best Actor and the Virtual Audience Award for Best Film at the London Film Festival. It is also up for four European Film Awards this weekend, including Best Film, Director, Actor and Screenwriter.
Despite the serious subject matter, which also offers moments of pure comedy, Vinterberg says he and Lindholm “deliberately avoided having a message.” The film is, “a survey and exploration not only of alcohol usage but of the uncontrollable. I guess if there’s anything in this movie as a hidden message, it’s a battle for the uncontrollable.”
Mikkelsen’s character, Martin, as the actor described it to me, “is a man standing on the platform and the train has left him… You see a man who is slowly but surely cracking up. He’s just sitting there feeling pity about himself and it dawns on him that he has wasted his life — that’s at least what he thinks. Throughout this experiment, he realizes that it’s not something that I have to regret in my past. I love my wife, I love my family and I used to love my job. It’s just about seeing everything again, recharging my eyes and falling in love with the present again.”
That recharging is enabled by the theories of real-life psychiatrist, author and Norwegian Olympics Committee member Finn Skarderud, who has controversially proposed that the normal blood alcohol level of human beings, 0.05%, is too low. People would be far more sharp-minded, engaged, energetic and on top of things, he argues, if they maintained a level of 0.10%. And so the band of middle-aged teachers begins clandestinely knocking back libations and testing the theory, successfully, at first, before things take various turns.
Was there any real alcohol involved? Mikkelsen told me recently there was not on shooting days. “It would be uncontrollable and the director would be trying to communicate with people who have already gone somewhere else and it would never be what we were aiming for.” However, there was some experimentation off set.
“It’s not that we don’t know what it is to be drunk,” Mikkelsen explained, “but we wanted to see what specifically would happen at 0.5%, 0.8%…” There was a “little boot camp” to monitor how speech and movements changed. But for the “next crazy Charlie Chaplin level” the team watched a lot of YouTube videos. Playing drunk is “a classic danger zone for any actor,” he says, adding, “You just have to make up your mind that it has to be integrated — we will try to take the clownery out of it, but in real life it is very clowny, just insanely clowny.” How were the main actors able to pull it off so seamlessly? ”Between us there’s a couple hundred years of experience, that might be the reason.”
Was there any concern that there might be copycat experiments in Denmark? For Mikkelsen: “Not really. This is also showing the other side of the coin. There have been so many wonderful films and brutal films about the dangers of drinking, there’s tons of them and we touch it as well, there’s no way around it, but I think the film speaks for itself in that the film is about life, it’s not about drinking.”
Vinterberg told me, “I think the film is balanced enough. It shows the sacrifice and it shows the victims. As far as I kow there’s no need to worry, it’s not like all the teachers have started drinking.” However, they have “started thinking about their lives. I’ve met a lot of teachers and headmasters who have asked me to talk at schools and it makes them think.”
Added Mikkelsen, alcohol has “been around for maybe six or seven thousand years and it’s always been a tool to either to lift the conversation, get closer to the sprits, be inspired in so many ways. How many times have people needed a couple of glasses before they dared to pick up that phone and call that special person, you know? How many people have met their spouses without alcohol being involved? So it’s not only a bad thing, it’s also an inspiring thing as long as we can keep it on a certain level.”
Vinterberg said, “The word ‘spirit’ doesn’t only mean alcohol, it’s also embedded in the word ‘inspiration’ so we were onto something about that. But if you talk about a drinking message, we don’t know how much people should drink or not drink. People get killed from this, families are destroyed from this, so how could we ever? And yet at the same time, people grow from this. Conversations that start out really dull can grow into something really interesting after a couple glasses of wine.”
For the director, “We need an element of exploration and risk at all times and in all sides of our lives. I think the ritualistic repetitiousness of life can be very fruitful. It makes you understand time and it makes you frame your life, but within that rhythm, there has to be an element of risk exploration.”
There’s another sort of risk exploration in the film which culminates with a dance by Mikkelsen. Dusting off his shoes 30 years after he enjoyed a professional dance career, Mikkelsen lets go in the sequence, but he was hesitant about performing the scene at first, telling me, “It’s a risky thing to do in a realistic film… It can easily become pretentous, you know?” But Vinterberg convinced the actor the scene was “a mirror of the journey that he was on… It’s a mix of emotions: Part of him wants to fly, part of him wants to drown.”
They shot that scene over two days with Mikkelsen dancing four or five hours per and on cobblestones, no less. “Everything was against me: my age, my shape and the cobblestones. It was brutal,” he recalled.
Vinterberg explained, “It was very important to me to show that (his character) was hesitant and withdrawing and then came back and danced a little more and then finally gave in. That was the structure of the scene, which was also the structure of Mads’ and my collaboration about the scene.”
The success of the film in Denmark took the team somewhat by surprise. Said Mikkelsen, “It has been going from all generations down to 12-years-old, and obviouysly the kids that are in high school recognize themselves, our generation and even our parents’ generation. It’s kind of rare that you have a film that spreads so wide. There are entire classes coming in watching it together, people who are graduating. They recognize themselves and their teachers.”
Releasing during Covid was a concern. “As crazy as it was, we were super nervous because we have restrictions in the movie theaters. We were like, ‘Oh my God, that means we have to sell twice as many theaters to just get even close to making the movie’s budget.’ But it also turned out there was no competition — we were the only film on the market, so that turned out great.”
However, the tactility of the scenes worried the team as well. How would people living in a pandemic respond? Said Mikkelsen, “I remember when I saw the film the first time we were in the middle of the lockdown. I loved it, but there was part of me that went, ‘Oh my God, they’re hugging, they’re kissing, they’re drinking from the same bottle. Oh my God, we’re gonna get killed, people are going to hate us’.”
In the end, “it turned out luckily it had the opposite effect. People do not want to watch a film about the lockdown, they want to watch a film about life,” Mikkelsen opined.
Vinterberg was concerned about a film “filled with different liquors, spit, embracing, dancing and silly behavior” landing “in a world of conifnement and death… because it could land slightly irrelevant, but it appears to be the opposite.”
While Mikkelsen is in the UK shooting Fantastic Beasts 3, Vinterberg is writing a TV series. The director tragically lost his 19-year-old daughter in a car accident last year and says, “My family has been through a tough year so that means that it suits me well staying home.” He’s wanted to write a series since his 1998 breakout Festen (The Celebration). Would it be a Dogme project? “Dogme is kind of pretty over. Dogme for me was like one of the most fantastic moments in my career. What we tired back then was to try to undress the movies to make them naked and we did that by taking a huge risk. Everyone told me this is going to destroy your career, it’s career suicide, it’s crazy what you’re doing. Then it won in Cannes and it went from being naked to being a very fancy dress. Everyone who did a Dogme film could attend a film festival,” he laughs.
Still some have noted Dogme elements in Another Round. Vinterberg allows there’s a bit of similarity. “The whole movie is handheld and there’s some improvisation. I’m always looking for the same thing as when I did my Dogme film and as I was looking for before I did my Dogme film even at film school, which is a sense of truthfulness.”
Regarding the past year and the tragedy his family has faced, Vinterberg says, “It changed my perspective, I’m not sure where I’m going to land yet, but I’m not going to do anything unimportant.”
Here’s a look at the catalyst dinner in Another Rouns: