LFF Review | Druk / Another Round (2020)

druk another round mads mikkelsen thomas vinterberg tobias lindholm what a life scarlet pleasure lff review

You must accept yourself as fallible in order to love others and life.

Druk (or Another Round, to give it its English title) is a very stylish movie. There’s a sleek, glossy feel to it all, and at its best, the film is absolutely buzzing with energy: it’s going to be remembered, more than anything else, for a handful of scenes as it opened and closed, its characters dancing and laughing and celebrating together. In those moments, there’s a real sense of vitality, even urgency, to it – Thomas Vinterberg’s direction isn’t just lively but frenetic, constantly moving, dynamic, bursting with passion.

That’s not to say that Druk is always quite so heightened, though: in fact, those scenes are only as striking as they are because they stand in such contrast to the rest of the film. Vinterberg’s script (written with collaborator Tobias Lindholm) is full of carefully handled tonal shifts, moments when such excessive drinking becomes fraught with danger, not with possibility. Druk captures exhaustion as well as it does ecstasy – it’s as much about the dull monotony of a passive life as it is those moments of zeal and enthusiasm that puncture it. By the same token, when the glitz and glamour of newfound confidence gives way to something altogether more squalid, Druk handles that well too, the film taking on a certain melancholy air whenever it pauses to catch a breath.

The film is anchored by a strong performance by Mads Mikkelsen – here clearly the lead, Druk much more interested in his character rather than any particular effort to build an ensemble. As ever, Mikkelsen shines, flawlessly inhabiting that creaking, tired ennui moving to careless abandon that defines his character, all underscored by an increasingly ragged desperation for a better way to live. It’s his final scene, though, that proves most memorable – an extended dance sequence, Mikkelsen lithe and nimble, one last note of joy for the film to end on. With Vinterberg’s direction at its most kinetic, and set to the film’s song What a Life, it’s not just the most memorable part of Mikkelsen’s performance, but of Druk as a whole too – the single most stylish scene in an already very stylish movie.

druk another round mads mikkelsen thomas bo larsen magnus millang lars ranthe vinterberg danish swedish nordisk alcohol

Nonetheless, while Druk is undeniably sleek, there’s a sense that perhaps it’s a case of style over substance – underneath the gloss and the sheen, it’s a much less compelling and thoughtful film than it appears to be.

It likely doesn’t qualify as a spoiler to reveal that four teachers choosing to drink to excess does not, ultimately, go very well for them. Druk is a story of a rise and a fall; their ostensibly academic study into psychologist Finn Skarderud’s theory that people should drink continually to maintain a certain level of blood alcohol content quickly turns into outright alcoholism. Renewed vigour in their personal and professional lives is soon replaced by maudlin lethargy and a sudden reversal of fortunes; it plays oddly, though, like a remarkably niche morality tale. (Surely no one else has actually tried this? Even Skarderud later denounced the theory, claiming to have been misunderstood.) It’s not clear exactly what Druk is getting at, or what the point of it all is – whether it’s a critique of Danish drinking culture or a fairly roundabout, heavily caveated celebration.

Part of this is that, for all Vinterberg’s willingness to commit wholeheartedly to individual scenes of drunken excess, the script itself is surprisingly cautious. It’d be unreasonable, yes, to expect the film to make a sweeping, definitive statement about alcohol use (and abuse) – and any such statement would likely be a very trite one. But while the direction is perfectly pitched, the balance of the script is off – too bogged down in the specifics of the drinking, losing sight of the character study, attempts at nuance instead coming across as equivocating. (One teacher encourages a student to drink before an exam, surely a signifier that they’d gone too far, but… it does actually seem to help the student?) Meanwhile, the opening act feels sparse and pared back, almost in a hurry to start drinking, and the eventual downfall comes too quickly: whatever Druk is getting at, whether at particular point or even a general theme, is sketched too lightly to make much impact.

Perhaps Druk would benefit from a repeat viewing – or another round, if you will – to more fully appreciate exactly what it’s going for. Certainly, there’s enough going on that revisiting the film would be rewarding: Druk is full of strong scenes and individually very impressive moments, each of which make strong impressions on their own terms. The film as a whole doesn’t quite manage to cohere, though, leaving Druk feeling rather less than the sum of its parts.

Related:

London Film Festival 2020 reviews

You can find more of my writing about film here, and follow me on twitter @morelandwriter. If you enjoyed this review – or if you didn’t – please consider leaving a tip on ko-fi.

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