Movies like “Another Round” are a reminder that many men need little encouragement to revert to their most irresponsible selves, especially when their responsible selves make them miserable. A stinging, gorgeously filmed tragicomedy about male insecurity and the power of positive drinking, it’s the latest from the Danish provocateur Thomas Vinterberg (“The Celebration,” “The Hunt), and it’s available as a virtual screening via both the Coolidge Corner Theatre and the Brattle.
Mads Mikkelsen (TV’s “Hannibal”) always looks a little hungover anyway, and he brings his bleary-eyed handsomeness to the role of Martin, a high school history teacher in the suburbs north of Copenhagen. Whatever fire Martin once had in his belly has long burned out, and he’s become a sleepwalking nonentity, invisible to his wife (Maria Bonnevie), two sons, and the students who can barely follow his rambling non-lectures.
Nor is he alone. At a 40th birthday dinner for Nikolaj (Magnus Millang), a psychology teacher and friend, a scientific theory is raised that intrigues Martin, school coach Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), and choir director Peter (Lars Ranthe), all four of them mired in middle-age funks. To wit: Humans are born with an blood alcohol content that’s 0.05 percent too low, so a program of steady, judicious daily drinking is the key to happiness. It sounds preposterous. Yet Martin gives it a go and discovers a new exuberance that brings his classroom back to life. So the other three sign up as well.
The early scenes of “Another Round” are played as appalled empathetic comedy, with the quartet seeding vodka bottles throughout their homes and schoolrooms as their lives at first appear to improve under mild inebriation. The men loosen their metaphorical neckties and inspire their students to find fresh meanings in the ironies of history, the harmonies of the choir, and the lessons of the playing field. All four actors are alive to the levels of exhilaration and denial — the ecstatic self-deception — their characters have to navigate, and they mine the script by Vinterberg and Tobias Lindholm for every nuance of comedy and sadness.
The experiment takes a dark turn, of course. The daily dose is increased to 0.1 percent and then beyond, and all the good qualities they hoped to jump-start become all the bad stuff they’re trying to ignore: marriages on autopilot, stifling loneliness, the stink of failure. “Another Round” opens with a quote from Kierkegaard — because of course it does — that warns “What is youth but a dream? What is love but the content of the dream?” The corollary is that the rest of a man’s life is waking hours, and only booze lets him find his way back to that beautiful dream.
Vinterberg implies that this is hardly a matter for Martin and his friends alone. “Another Round” — the Danish title, “Druk” (“Drinking”), is appreciably more blunt — ties alcohol to the national identity, with scenes of the high school kids engaging in binge-drinking games between bouts of singing the Danish national anthem. And with a disturbingly funny montage of drunken-politician news clips from Brezhnev to Bill Clinton — Boris Yeltsin gets his own specialty number — the movie widens its scope to the international stage and the totality of the human condition.
Is there any way out of the box of living other than sensory obliteration or death? In its final scenes, “Another Round” extends an olive branch to some of its characters, and there’s another, notably less doom-laden passage from Kierkegaard. At the same time, Vinterberg is too much the realist to let any of us off the hook. The final scenes involve a remarkable moment of physical release on Martin’s part — Mikkelsen’s training as a dancer has never been more apparent — and a tone that is both celebratory and damning. “Another Round” says that the line between dreaming and waking is really a round trip that never ends.
Directed by Thomas Vinterberg. Written by Vinterberg and Tobias Lindholm. Starring Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Magnus Millang, Lars Ranthe, Maria Bonnevie. Available as a virtual screening at the Coolidge and the Brattle. In Danish, with subtitles. 85 minutes. Unrated (as R: language, some sex, desperate middle-aged drinking).