tragedy, comedy and kierkegaard collide like the ups and downs of a drunken binge in the latest from thomas vinterberg, which won the bafta for best film not in the english language and the oscar for best international film. Playfully unruly in tone (“scandalous” is Vinterberg’s preferred word), but shot through with a flint shard of sadness, it’s the Danish director’s best and most personal film since 1998’s festen: a heady cocktail of ecstasy and pain, animated by a superb ensemble. to emit. At the center of his maddening spell is a superbly modulated performance from Mads Mikkelsen, who rose to prominence in Vinterberg’s 2012 drama The Hunt, and here gives the performance of a lifetime in a role that sees him dancing (literally) to through the heart of darkness.
mikkelsen is martin, a bored and uncaring high school teacher who, like his closest colleagues, is caught up in the creeping throes of a midlife crisis: the feeling that the glass is now half empty. Inspired by Norwegian psychiatrist Finn Skårderud’s suggestion that the human body has an inherent alcohol deficiency, Martin and three close friends embark on a daredevil experiment: to see if drinking during the day can help them become better versions of themselves. : learning to live again.
just like the dogma 95 manifesto that vinterberg cooked up with lars von trier, the rules under which this experiment will be conducted are harsh and absurd. More importantly, the foursome agree to give up drinking at night or on weekends, restricting their intoxication to the workplace, at least initially. Regarding the amounts they consume, these will be strictly controlled and recorded in a pseudo-academic document, the extracts of which appear on the screen.
At first, the experiment yields positive results, with small intakes of alcohol producing big changes (“I haven’t felt this good in years”). freed from the anguish of sobriety, the friends are more lucid, more communicative, more spontaneous. but inevitably, as their intake increases, the benefits diminish, leaving them spiraling toward self-destruction.
Whether it’s the Lost Weekend or leaving Las Vegas, film’s relationship with alcohol has long been a conflicting mix of fascination and revulsion. Within the canon of screen drunkenness, it’s hard to think of another film that captures the slightly heightened euphoria of drinking as accurately as this one, from its gleeful opening of “the lake run” (a student ritual involving drinking beer from frantic and on the fly) to an exciting and dangerous outdoor jazz dance number (you’ll think a man can fly). Yet like the brilliant pianist who, we’re told, could only play “at the exact point of being neither drunk nor sober,” this quartet is engaged in a precarious balancing act, with bloody hangovers, broken families, and worse. waiting for those who fall
Another round is dedicated to Vinterberg’s 19-year-old daughter Ida, who was killed in a car accident just as production was beginning, but whose vibrant spirit clearly infuses the film. “Having lost a life,” Vinterberg told me, shortly after being nominated for an Oscar for best director, “the element of celebration and affirmation of life became extremely important.” Appropriately, while Vinterberg can describe another round as existing within the “completely bare, blunt and sometimes improvised intimacy” of films like The Husbands of John Cassavetes and A War, from his regular co-writer Tobias Lindholm, there is also an air as a counterweight to the carnivalesque, reminiscent of the exuberance of federico fellini.
As for the duality of the Danish character (the anthem i danmark er jeg født resonates throughout the film), Vinterberg paints a sardonic portrait of a society torn between well-bred mediocrity and “going completely insane” – a trait (along with sarcasm) that he believes the Danes share with the British, which may explain why he felt so comfortable directing movies like his 2015 remake of Far From the Madding Crowd.
After the comparative disappointment of Kursk (aka The Commando) in 2018, another round reminds us of the unique blend of anarchic energy and technical precision that has defined Vinterberg’s greatest works. it’s a brilliantly ambiguous affair, seasick yet precise, profound yet playful, confronting questions of life and death with equal vigor, while ultimately toasting the redemptive power of cinema.