Friday, September 18, 2020

ANOTHER ROUND: TIFF 2020 HIGHLIGHT #4



It makes sense that Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round was put out by Lars Von Trier’s production company (Zentropa). The story kind of plays out like an actual Lars Von Trier film to some degree (Von Trier & Vinterberg have had a 20+ year friendship & working relationship). The basic plot of the film is centered around a set of loose/unofficial rules. Four school teachers come up with the idea/theory that by keeping alcohol in their system constantly it will help & improve their overall life. There’s lots of games that people add alcohol to in order to make them more fun. From peer pong to taking a shot every time someone does something repetitive, alcohol - when consumed as responsible as possible - can make things slightly more enjoyable. The teachers in the film adopt this basic premise and apply it to every day life.
If you stop and think for a second, this sounds like something out of a Lars Von Trier film.
Anyone familiar with his work knows that the plots to his movies, the process/making of his movies (or both) are usually bound by a set of rules (The Idiots & Epidemic), chapters/sections (Breaking The Waves, Manderlay, Dogville), laws and/or beliefs (The Element Of Crime). Another Round is no different. Our characters set out a basic set of rules & guidelines to live life by.
Thomas Vinterberg is no stranger to setting rules, guidelines, laws or restrictions around his movies either. His directorial debut (The Celebration) was the first Dogma feature so it was created by following rules. The characters in his misunderstood/underrated movie Dear Wendy are also bound by a set a specific guidelines they follow. This latest effort fits in with the rest of his (good) body of work perfectly.

It’s important to note that the main characters in Another Round are teachers. My mother was a high school teacher so I’ve seen that side of things. It can drain you and break your spirit. Dealing with teenagers that aren’t your own can be tiring even for one day (sometimes you have to deal with the teens and their parents). Imagine that being your job for decades. I’m not saying teachers deserve unconditional sympathy just because they’re teachers. They chose their line of work. No one forced them to do what they do. But with teaching, and almost any other profession, you sometimes hit a wall. You become jaded and less passionate about what you do every day (the first 20-25 minutes of Another Round are incredibly sad & depressing).
In an effort to combat the sadness & depression and make life “fun” again, the four friends/teachers keep their alcohol levels at a specific range at all times to feel some form of happiness. To me that’s both funny and sad. Mostly sad. If drinking is the only thing that makes life enjoyable then there might be a bigger problem to address (which does slowly come out in the film).

The experiment starts to work. The teachers find meaning again. Their students are happier and the overall tone of the film changes and that sad depressed vibe we get at the beginning is replaced with silliness, joy & happiness.
But, like most humans, the teachers push things too far and what starts out as a fun experiment eventually breaks down and becomes a problem.

When Thomas Vinterberg isn’t phoning it in (Kurske, Far From The Madding Crowd, etc), he has this unique ability to show how childish, silly & irrational adults can be in a really fascinating way. The family in The Celebration, the brothers in Submarino and the supporting cast in The Hunt are all perfect examples of this. The childishness & irrationality of men comes out in Vinterberg’s films more than anything else. But not necessarily in a judgy way. It just is what it is and a lot of men are wired a certain way. I don’t mean to make this all about gender but Another Round plays out like an updated slightly more sensitive Danish remake of Cassavetes’ Husbands. Besides the obvious fact that alcohol fuels both movies, it shows how, at times, men revert to being little boys even when they’re pushing 50. Women do the same thing but this particular movie just so happens to be about about men.
I may be reaching here (this wouldn’t be the first time), but Another Round speaks to the people who sometimes grow sick of their family life and daydream about doing whatever they want as a way to both “escape” and avoid a life of predictability & monotony. To have those thoughts is understandable. As humans we have a lot of irrational & unrealistic thoughts every day. That’s fine. But acting on it is another thing. Not everyone subscribes to what I’m about to say but when you hold a job, have a wife and children (like the main characters in Another Round), you sometimes have to put others first. You should always take care of yourself first in order to do for yourself and others to the best of your ability, but when you have a family you really can’t do whatever you want (even if you don’t have a family you can’t just do whatever you want).

What’s so great about Another Round is that in someone else’s hands it could’ve been a mediocre goofy comedy about teachers being drunk on the job. But Thomas Vinterberg made a sad, soulful & somewhat celebratory film about men dealing with a mid-life crisis and I honestly love that.

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