Another Round movie review: Thomas Vinterberg film is an interesting experiment on soft benefits of alcohol

Another Round is an analytical view beyond the simplistic approach of tracing vice to the morality of alcoholism, usually argued by the social critics of alcohol.

Manik Sharma April 23, 2021 10:25:59 IST

3/5

In an article for NDTV in 2016, Chief Minister of Bihar, Nitish Kumar wrote of prohibition. “It was a revelation to see the seeds of a deep-seated social transformation in Bihar like never before. I reaffirmed to myself that there is no going back, whatever may be the consequence.”

In the years that followed, Kumar has been re-elected and has, at least on paper, delivered on his promise of complete prohibition that many believe landed him the majority of the women’s vote from the state. Alcoholism remains inseparably twined to the Indian belly as one of the many things behind its acidic imbalance. Spurious alcohol continues to consume lives even in states where liquor is prohibited. It is a problem that deserves an analytical view beyond the simplistic approach of tracing vice to the morality of alcoholism. Something Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round affectingly speculates on. The Danish film is nominated in the Best International Feature and the Best Director categories at Oscars 2021.

Mads Mikkelsen resumes his collaboration with the Danish director in an oddly symbolic film where four high school professors undertake a real-life social experiment. Mikkelsen plays Martin, a guileless History teacher who looks like he has memorised far too many history books to be able to commit to the spontaneity of the present.

Martin is part of a group of teachers who are looking to break the duck of banality, of everyday ineffectiveness, maybe even depression. One of these teachers proposes an alleged theory by a Norwegian scientist that claims that the body-alcohol levels in humans is always low, and a general dose of booze a day will keep them anxieties away. The premise is quite preposterous considering the many liberalities it must take with doubt and cynicism. The four teachers, along with Martin, the brooding alpha amongst them, reluctantly undertake the experiment. Through convoluted yet cheekily convenient ways, all start consuming regularly small doses of alcohol.

The results, Vinterberg’s film shows, are briefly positive with poetically unanticipated dimensions. With their inhibitions lowered, Martin and his friends become charismatic overnight. Martin’s lectures are suddenly more fun while his friend Tommy’s football lessons begin to flow without the rigidness of a manual. But the boys do not just become better professionally; they begin to exude comparatively charming personalities. In one scene, the teacher asks a nervous student to sip some booze from his battle to navigate the nervousness of an interview. In another, Martin, manages to sell the reprehensible Winston Churchill as an enviable role model of sorts.

Alcohol, Vinterberg tells us, can be that lubricant that lets your first instincts slide in first. Is that what morality is? Merely the barrier to a higher conscience where we can all fully and freely express who we are or what we would rather be? 

The Indian male has come to embody the toxicity that social critics of alcohol symbolically refer to. Not without good reason either. Most familial violence in Indian households is linked to alcoholism, which relegates it to a kind of violation in itself. It is here that Vinterberg acts as provocateur, by offering the seldom-examined soft benefits of alcohol, the social hurdles it helps you cross, the intimate pains it helps you treat or the artless mannerisms it helps you mould into something more affecting. Alcohol is widely administered as an ice-breaker in social circles looking to admit new members. To people lacking social skills or the vocabulary to navigate situations they would otherwise sit out, alcohol serves both as a lubricant and as a shield. In Vinterberg’s film, Martin is the teetotaler, who under the speculative guidance of alcoholism, gradually becomes the central figure. What alcohol uncovers in him are the hidden recesses of potential that a mildly carefree Martin could have otherwise manifested in. Though they are all middle-age, Martin and his friends find a spiritual bridge to meet their students half-way — one that comes in a bottle. 

Another Round predictably underlines the dangers of excess and the inevitable spiral into an abyss too good to be true. As his friends lose control of their selves, Martin barely holds his life together. It is important to point here that the film centres middle-aged men for the possible reason that it is their desperate recapture of youth that would make them believe anything as remotely ludicrous as a theory about the benefits of alcohol. Moreover, Another Round probably deserved more women, maybe a whole script around them which would make for an intriguing contrast to this original. 

Mikkelsen and Co are incredibly accomplished throughout the film, cautiously essaying middle aged men who can at times seem too alcohol-illiterate for the era that we all live in. To which point, do men ever comprehend alcohol beyond its physical attestations? Do Indian men, for example, consider the many destinations this detour of psychological proportions takes us to? This and many other questions make Vinterberg’s film, despite its obscure premise, universal in theme. It is an experiment on more than one level and one that Indian viewers ought to take for the many fascinating ideas, not to mention performances, it has to offer.

Another Round is available in India on BookMyShow Stream.

Rating: ***

Oscars 2021 will air in India on 26 April.

(Also read — Oscars 2021: Romanian documentary Collective studies the multifarious factors at play in shaping a democracy)

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