REVIEW: Druk (2020)

Danish Theatrical Release Poster – Nordisk Film

International Title: Another Round.

Directed by Thomas Vinterberg (The Hunt) — Screenplay by Thomas Vinterberg & Tobias Lindholm.

With Thomas Vinterberg’s Druk, or Another Round as it will be known around the world, two of the Danish film industry’s most highly regarded individuals — Vinterberg and Mads Mikkelsen — have re-teamed to tackle mid-life crises. Mads Mikkelsen is the Cannes Film Festival Award-winning actor who has played Hannibal Lecter, a James Bond-villain, a Marvel Cinematic Universe-villain, and a pivotal supporting character in the Star Wars spin-off film Rogue One. But, as Danish audiences know well, Mads Mikkelsen is not just a great supporting actor and villain, he is also one of his generation’s finest actors, and he constantly turns out extraordinary performances. Mikkelsen’s remarkable talent has arguably made him, to quote A. O. Scott, the face of Danish cinema.

Director Thomas Vinterberg, co-founder of the Dogme 95 filmmaking movement (with Lars Von Trier), is one of Denmark’s best filmmakers, and he has made two of the most discussed Danish films of the last twenty-five years with 1998’s The Celebration (or Festen) and 2012’s The Hunt (or Jagten, starring Mads Mikkelsen). When Thomas Vinterberg and Mads Mikkelsen team-up, their project should be at the top of your watchlist, which they both proved with their masterpiece The Hunt back in 2012, which was also co-written by Druk co-writer Tobias Lindholm (A War; A Hijacking). With Druk their partnership has once again resulted in an incredible film, which may be the finest film of the year. The film includes one of the year’s most intoxicating scenes made powerful by Mads Mikkelsen, who has turned in one of the best performances of his career.

Thomas Vinterberg’s Druk is a film about rediscovering a youthful exuberance in life’s dull and arduous days. The film follows Martin (played by Mads Mikkelsen), a history teacher from the Danish equivalent of a high school (or upper secondary school), who has lost enthusiasm and soul both at home and at his workplace. His kids are getting older, he never sees Trine (played by Maria Bonnevie), his wife (since she works at night), and his students, and their parents, have let him know that he is not currently fit for his job. It’s safe to say that he has hit rock bottom in his middle age. On a night out with his friends and colleagues — Tommy (played by Thomas Bo Larsen), Peter (played by Lars Ranthe), and Nikolaj (played by Magnus Millang) — he tells them all about his mid-life crisis. While Tommy and Peter try to cheer him up, Nikolaj has a different idea. Nikolaj presents his friends with a contentious theory from Norwegian philosopher Finn Skårderud, which states that in order to thrive, enjoy life properly, and live creatively you ought to always have a small amount of alcohol in your blood.

While Nikolaj initially meant for Skårderud’s theory to be nothing more than a conversation-starter, Martin takes it to heart and tests it out in the following days. When his experiment makes him looser and a better and more high-spirited teacher, the four teachers all decide to experiment with their blood alcohol level in their workplace and chronicle their experiences to make it a proper scientific experiment. Liquid courage, as alcohol is sometimes referred to, reduces their inhibitions, rejuvenates them, and makes them excited about their daily lives once again. Even though Martin discovers that his life can be this good without alcohol, after they have had a small taste of the effects, the teachers eventually become tempted by the idea of consuming even more alcohol at work and at home. However, predictably, their excessive alcohol consumption eventually reaches a boiling point at which point their careers and their partnerships are put at risk.

A feeling that I had from the first scene to the last was that Druk always felt like a uniquely Danish film. This film feels uniquely Danish in its relationship with alcohol and in its attitude towards the consumption of alcohol by people of almost all ages. Druk doesn’t exactly preach abstinence. Instead, the message it communicates is closer to the saying ‘everything in moderation.’ The film seems to suggest that we must find our own limit with liquid courage, as it were, and not overindulge. It’s a level-headed message for a film about mid-life crises to expound on. Although the film’s central experiment’s eventual alcoholism problem is admittedly predictable, it is the approach to the film, the approach to the characters, and the performances themselves that make Druk a film to remember. Although there are consequences for the main characters, the main characters aren’t exactly rebuked harshly for their habits, at least not in the way an American film may have done it.

This is the kind of film that I doubt very much could have been made by an American film studio. Often American films about mid-life crises, alcoholism, and the like tend to reprimand or ridicule its main characters and hamfistedly make moral statements at the end of the film. Druk is also a tragicomedy, and American productions tend to struggle with that balance, often landing squarely in slapstick and trite punchlines. In someone else’s hands, this could’ve been just a silly workplace comedy, but, even though there are certain scenes with a lot of humor at the expense of the main characters, this film treats all of its characters with a dignity that is refreshing. The overwhelming feeling here is that Vinterberg and Lindholm’s script is non-judgmental towards its main characters.

“What is youth? A dream. What is love? The dream’s content.” – Søren Kierkegaard, quoted in the film’s opening credits.

Vinterberg’s newest film is dedicated to his late daughter Ida, who died as a result of a traffic collision last year. Prior to her passing, Ida was scheduled to appear in her father’s film, and, in her memory, Vinterberg has made a triumphant celebration of life, love, and youth. This is one of Vinterberg’s very best films, and its pacing, humor, and catharsis are all masterful and fully earned. Every choice has been made, seemingly, with a specific purpose in mind. The film opens with a quote from Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard’s quote comes to encapsulate the dream that the main characters are chasing through their mid-life crisis experiment.

Vinterberg, Lindholm, and cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen go to great lengths to focus on the gap between youthful freedom and the disappointing dullness and tiredness of middle age. As the film begins, we’re met with excited and drunk Danish teens both in the Danish daytime and nightlife. They are living it up and causing a ruckus. These scenes of young Danes drinking, puking, running, and lying piled up on the floor are then juxtaposed with their teachers, in the teachers’ lounge, looking grey but sort of amused by the whole situation that their students have created. They no longer have the drive and freedom that their students possess, and they think wistfully back on their golden days. Later in the film, as our main characters are blackout drunk but somewhat revitalized, Grøvlen frames Mikkelsen and the rest of the main characters like the drunken teens from the film’s opening. But instead of this being just a fun night out, it becomes the night that makes them realize that this life comes at a cost.

With a tragicomedy, Vinterberg is faced with the challenge of having to juggle and balance both great humor and great heartache, and he does this very well. The film features some of the year’s most memorable fun scenes, which focus on the main characters’ drunken escapades, but the film also includes memorable scenes that may get you choked up. Tommy and Martin’s narrative arcs are connected in a way that says a lot about the choices you make in life, and the characters’ impact on each other is felt in pivotal scenes. I also think that one of the film’s best subplots involves Lars Ranthe’s Peter, whose best scene involves him trying to help a student overcome his crippling oral exam anxiety.

Some of the film’s best scenes are both exciting, infectious, and intoxicating. But the film’s very best scene is positively electrifying. Without revealing too much, I will say that Mads Mikkelsen makes use of one of his hidden talents and, as a result, creates one of the year’s most memorable film scenes. This sequence left a huge smile on my face as the film came to an end, and it perfectly encapsulated that feeling of elation after having recaptured something you thought you had lost.

As I mentioned earlier, foreign audiences may only think of Mads Mikkelsen as a great mischievous villain, but the Danish star and silver fox is much more than that. He is capable of great comedy, as he has proven in plenty of films from Anders Thomas Jensen, with whom he has collaborated on films such as 2000s Flickering Lights. Mikkelsen is, of course, also an accomplished dramatic actor, and his turn in The Hunt is among the previous decade’s finest performances. Mikkelsen is one of the best actors of his generation, and that fact is further cemented by his performance in Druk.

This is probably one of the most feeble, frail, and sad characters that he has ever portrayed. Martin is a shell of a man, and Mikkelsen sells that in the film’s opening. His breakdown at his colleague’s celebration is believable and moving, and the same can be said for the entirety of the emotional arc that Mikkelsen’s character goes on. Mikkelsen is in fine form, and, even though this is by no means his most memorable performance, this is one of his finest portrayals. It’s one of the best leading performances of the year thus far.

Outside of Mads Mikkelsen, Druk predominantly features actors, who foreign audiences may not be familiar with. Fans of Vinterberg’s The Hunt may recognize Lars Ranthe and Thomas Bo Larsen. Larsen and the rest of the cast are tasked with acting drunk, and he, along with Millang, exercise their comedy chops to great effect in these very convincing scenes. Thomas Bo Larsen and Lars Ranthe are predictably solid and both deliver strong performances, but Magnus Millang, mostly a comedy actor, delivers what is undoubtedly a career-best performance.

Thus far 2020 has been a very odd year for films. Great films that you plan to watch again and again are few and far between this tumultuous year. However, it pleases me greatly to report that Thomas Vinterberg’s Druk isn’t just a great crowd-pleaser but also one of the best Danish films in a very long time. This is a special film about rediscovering the fountain of youth by loosening your inhibitions thanks to liquid courage. This is a powerful celebration of youth, life, and love that includes a truly intoxicating, electrifying, and rip-roaring ending that’ll stick with you.

9.5 out of 10

– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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