IFFAM 2020 Movie Review: Another Round (Druk)

It’s that time of the year again for the International Film Festival and Awards Macao. In previous years, I would have been there, watching movies in between downing copious amounts of black coffee and cheap croissants. This year, however, I’m participating from the comfort of my sofa because, like most other film festivals taking place during the pandemic, IFFAM is all online. I can’t vouch for the people in Macau because I’m not there but if you’re living in Hong Kong and you didn’t hear anything about the festival this year, you’re definitely not alone. Their PR, which is pretty disjointed every year, really sucked this year. At least the organisers made their films accessible to everyone in Macau and Hong Kong for a very reasonable price of HK$50 each but if a film festival takes place and no one knows about, does it really take place at all?

In this, the festival’s fifth edition, 31 films were screened. (The festival ends today although a few films are still available for viewing until tomorrow.) As far as I know, and it’s difficult to tell from what little the PR people have put out, only about a half dozen or so of the films were Asian premieres. Even more disappointing for cinephiles is that at least two of films are already available on the streaming services. I reviewed RELIC back in July and FIRST COW in August. On the plus side though, a couple of films that are receiving Oscar® buzz were in the schedule, one of them being Danish director Thomas Vinterberg’s (THE COMMAND; THE COMMUNE; THE HUNT) latest effort, ANOTHER ROUND.

Martin (Mads Mikkelsen, AT ETERNITY’S GATE; THE HUNT; CHARLIE COUNTRYMAN; TV’s HANNIBAL) is a history teacher at a high school in Copenhagen. Like his friends and colleagues, gym teacher Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen, THE HUNT), music teacher Peter (Lars Ranthe, THE COMMUNE; THE HUNT) and sociology teacher Nikolaj (Magnus Millang, THE COMMAND; THE COMMUNE), Martin is having a mid-life crisis of sorts. His students seem just as bored with his teaching as he is. His homelife isn’t any better with his wife, Anika (Maria Bonnevie), seemingly taking night shifts at the hospital to avoid spending any more time with him than absolutely necessary. All their lives change when Nikolaj comes across a study by Norwegian philosopher Finn Skårderud claiming that man’s innate blood alcohol level is too low and that drinking to a blood alcohol level of 0.05% improves one’s performance. With that, the men start downing a swig of this and a glass of that, and meeting after classes end for the day to document their experiences. Very quickly they all notice that they have newfound springs in their steps and their students start responding in a positive way. But, not surprisingly, the inevitable happens when their day drinking starts getting out of hand.

Mikkelsen said in an interview that in Denmark if you put a bunch of bottles of wine on the table, everyone will stay until the last drop is drunk. Whether that’s a love of drinking or an alcohol problem depends on your culture, I suppose. Martin (and Vinterberg, because he wrote the script) makes the point that if Churchill wasn’t such a heavy drinker, would he have agreed to Operation Dynamo? Similarly, he asks his students, if Hitler, who never drank alcohol, had taken a drink or two, would he have made better choices that could have won the war for the Nazis? It’s a bit of a stretch but okay.

Vinterberg has called ANOTHER ROUND a celebration of life and the film’s closing scene certainly reinforces that position. While many find that scene to be exuberant, I found it rather sad at the same time because Martin makes a choice that may not be in his best interests in the long term. Happiness found at the bottom of a bottle is never long-lasting. Ask any reformed alcoholic or anyone in their family. Vinterberg, though, loves to push the envelope on social issues, particularly Danish ones, as he did with THE COMMUNE.

Mikkelsen and the other men all do great work playing closeted drunks. There’s a fine line between underplaying it and overacting, and these actors all found a realistic balance. In that same interview, Mikkelsen joked that they had considered doing some of the scenes while they were drunk but that would have meant being in that state for 12 hours at a time — not an easy feat… or a healthy one. While the camerawork tends to mirror the mens’ state of inebriation, I was surprised, disappointed even, to see that their perceptions of their teaching abilities matched reality. Again it would appear that Vinterberg is advocating for Skårderud’s thesis.

ANOTHER ROUND has been nominated by Denmark to the Best International Feature category of the 93rd Academy Awards. I believe we’ll find out some time in March if it makes the short list. In the meantime, the film has started its international roll out to cinemas that are still open. I don’t think it’s available yet on a streaming service though. If it is where you live, please let me know!

Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, December 11th, 8:30 am HK time!

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