In a film which was fundamentally altered by the impact of a Director’s personal loss, a degree of transcendence is achieved by allowing that even the hardest points in our lives can be truly life-affirming if we allow them to be.
Another Round which recently won an Academy Award, for best International Feature Film, is directed by Thomas Vinterberg and stars Mads Mikkelsen. Four days into filming however, Thomas received awful news that his daughter had passed away in a car crash. This took him away from the project in which his daughter was supposed to star and in who’s school the project was ultimately shot.
He returned to the project aware that the film who’s script his late daughter had been enthralled with, may in fact help him through one of the darker points in his life. While his initial conception of the project was a celebration of alcohol, its effects on the ordinary human being and capacity to bring people together. Yet this seemed too cheap of an approach to Vinterberg, who recognised the substance’s capacity to bring people to their knees and also in the darkness it can at times draw out in individuals.
What has since emerged is a piece which is as much a celebration of life as a discussion of binge drinking and alcoholism. The core premise is based on Norwegian psychiatrist Finn Skårderud's theory that humans are born with an alcohol blood level 0.05% too low. The film centres around four teachers who have each lost their way in some shape or another and at a birthday party for one of the afore-mentioned educator’s this pseudo-scientific premise is mentioned.
Which leads to each of the friends engaging in an experiment, whereby they endeavour to maintain a blood-alcohol level above 0.05% during working hours, calling a halt to such drinking at eight o’clock each evening and not drinking at weekends. These latter two rules are drawn from the famous example set by Ernest Hemingway, who made use of alcohol in order to give him the inspiration he needed as a writer.
What follows is a reflection on despondency, alcoholism, grief and the capacity of kindness to affect those around us in varying ways. The main protagonists of the film give vintage performances as they navigate life, death, alcoholism and detachment. Mads Mikkelsen is however the standout performer and displays a range of emotion and equally an ability to draw this back when required, in order to fully articulate how life can sometimes pull us away from what truly brings us joy.
His arc in particular encapsulates the core message behind the drunken antics and general descent in to alcoholism which ensues. Life is not, was not and never will be perfect. The meaning and happiness we are often times searching for usually comes in enjoying the little things and recognizing the importance of the ones who make our lives better even by their mere presence. Every person will experience periods in which they are not themselves, in which they feel a stark disconnect from their lives and seek out a way of bringing themselves back to who they truly are.
Grief is also a part of the process and the way in which Vinterberg handles it is equal parts embracing the heartbreak and suffering involved in the process, alongside a celebration of the involvement of the process in living. This speaks depths not only of the personal loss Vinterberg endured, but also the cathartic experience he enjoyed while working on this project, which further includes a dedication to his late daughter at the film’s end.
This honesty and heartfelt treatment of the subject matter, elevates what might have been considered an above average dark comedy, to something truly transcendent. The light it seems Vinterberg urges us to realise cannot ever truly be experienced without the dark and when we are forced to endure such darker points it is worth keeping this in mind.
For those hesitant to watch this film, due to what may seem to be a one-sided view on alcohol and its effects, the changed approach to the film following Vineberg’s loss also allowed for a deeper inspection of the effects and suffering which is often wrought from over indulgence. This harsher view on what some have termed to be the dark demon, provides a balanced and nuanced standpoint and the film benefits immensely from such.
In terms of recommendations, this film alongside Sound of Metal have emerged as my two favourites of not only the awards season but also the year as a whole. The film is available to stream on Hulu and can be rented from a number of other such streaming services. I could not recommend this cinematic tour de force any more highly and believe the ending in particular will galvanise this opinion for many. It is also worth noting that Leonardo DiCaprio has already purchased the rights to create an English version. The film should be viewed before this occurs, as Mads Mikkelsen has not signed up to star and in his performance lies the crux of everything that is great about the film.