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Danish comedy drama 'Another Round' is moving, must-see for film lovers

"Another Round" delves into the story of four friends with powerful delivery and introspection, and Mads Mikkelsen's performance, who plays Martin, was especially notable. – Photo by American Cinematheque / Twitter

Four middle-aged men. Four midlife crises. And a misguided social experiment with alcohol that spirals out of control. The protagonists of Thomas Vinterberg’s “Another Round” would certainly raise their glasses and drink to that!

Vinterberg’s Danish comedy-drama film “Another Round,” which recently received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, swept the majority of the European Film Awards and made the shortlist for Best International Feature Film at the 93rd Academy Awards, is rightfully captivating the hearts of audiences.

The film's critical acclaim during the awards season shows no signs of stopping as it carries the prestigious selection stamp of the Cannes Film Festival and won the prized César Awards at the festival recently.

The film is a celebration of life and examines the strong drinking culture in Nordic countries, while also serving as a cautionary tale to warn of the hazards of binge drinking and its effects on personal relationships.

“Another Round” explores the lives of four high school teachers, Martin (Mads Mikkelsen), Nikolaj (Magnus Millang), Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen) and Peter (Lars Ranthe), who find themselves deeply unsatisfied with their personal and professional lives and feel as though life has passed them by. They struggle to connect with themselves and their families and no longer see the spark in themselves as their students do.

One night, when celebrating Nikolaj’s 40th birthday, they discuss the work of psychiatrist Finn Skårderud, who theorized that maintaining a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.05 percent can drastically improve one’s social and personal performance.

Lured by the promise of improving their stale lives, the men embark on conducting a detailed pseudoscientific experiment to day drink and eventually struggle to restrain their addiction as their personal demons come to the surface.

In the initial stages of their study, the results are magnificent to behold. Martin reinvigorates his passion for teaching history, Tommy becomes a father figure to one of his students while his soccer coaching improves, Nikolaj finally connects with his psychology students for the first time and Peter channels the inner musicians of his choir students.

But, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end and so does their adventure. 

What seems to be a rather simple plot at first glance is actually a complex character study of four men who are far more vulnerable than they are willing to confess. The screenplay, penned by Vinterberg himself, is deeply moving. But its biggest strength is that it doesn’t preach its themes or take itself too seriously.

Despite such strong performances from each actor to complement the good writing, the film towers upon the shoulders of Mikkelsen, who delivers a tour de force and one of the best of his career.

Mikkelsen is a joy to watch. He effortlessly commands your attention as Martin when on screen and elevates the film to another level. Most known for his work alongside Daniel Craig as the menacing Le Chiffre in “Casino Royale” and Hannibal Lecter in the NBC show “Hannibal,” Martin is a far cry from his previous roles.

Even with the aid of subtitles to understand the Danish language, I was able to grasp the story’s most powerful moments simply by keeping track of his incredible micro-expressions. Rightfully, “Another Round” has its best scenes when focused on Martin’s story.

Watch out for the scene at the beginning of the film during Nikolaj’s 40th birthday when the three friends ask Martin how he’s really doing. Martin’s eyes bubble with tears as he apologizes to his friends for spoiling the mood of the evening and replies he’s doing “just fine."

It’s a simple scene that’s equal parts heartbreaking and informative, and that split moment reveals so much of a man who simply misses the spark of his youth.

Without spoiling the film’s best scenes, the themes in Vinterberg’s story are largely told with the background of Scarlet Pleasure’s song, “What a Life!,” and through Martin himself, whose dance sequence to the song is my personal favorite.

Mikkelsen, who spent a great deal of his youth immersing himself in the study of classical dancing and was a professional dancer prior to becoming an actor, is in top form in this scene.

He erupts into a graceful trance, sprinting through a crowd as intoxicated as him and stumbling on his movements while crafting an artistic balance between spontaneity and choreography.

The fluidity in his movement complements the overwhelming emotion of liberation in his eyes — here we have a man who thrives off of the intoxication of life rather than just alcohol as he glides through the crowd freely. His dance is poetic in many respects and helps convey the film’s parting message beautifully.

Whether you’re looking for an entertaining and breezy watch on the weekends or need the reassurance of just how fragile and wonderful life can be, “Another Round” is definitely for you. While there is some inappropriate language littered throughout the film, nothing should really spoil your viewing experience.

During these uncertain times, Vinterberg’s film reminds us that life is ever fleeting. What matters today is our willingness to embrace the present and ensure that life doesn’t pass us by. In the field of forgotten dreams, the happiness of our youth, the beauty of our relationships and the lingering uncertainty of what will come with a new tomorrow, can we not treasure the little things and live freely for ourselves? I can certainly raise a toast to that.

“Another Round” is now available to watch on Hulu with a premium subscription or for rent on Amazon Prime and Apple TV.

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