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A Danish proverb says, “One beer is just right, two is too many, three too few.”
I translate that inebriated bit of wisdom as an ode binge drinking - the party doesn’t start until the fourth drink, and just gets better after that.
Two studies reported that Danish teens “consume the most alcohol in Europe in their age group” and that “32% of Danish 15 to 16 year olds reported having been drunk in the last 30 days.”
These patterns might explain why one of the most popular films in Denmark last year was titled “Druk,” the Danish term for binge drinking.
For release abroad, the film was watered down to “Another Round.”
Initially, I had no interest in the film. It sounded like a Scandinavian variation on “The Hangover.” I laughed at the tiger in the hotel room, but one is enough. I’m driving home.
Then the Oscar nominations were announced on March 15.
“Another Round” was nominated for Best International Film and Thomas Vinterberg won a directing nomination.
That news sobered me up quickly – especially the director recognition, which is voted on only by directors.
Surprised and curious, I sat down with water on the rocks to watch “Druk.”
My view of this film differs dramatically from the consensus view that “Another Round” is a “comedy-drama,” that’s praised as a bittersweet ode to Danish drinking that’s more sweet than bitter.
Yes, “Another Round” has comic moments, but overall, it’s an extremely dark film that I would classify as tragi-comic at best, if not an outright tragedy.
One dies. One marriage is broken. How is that funny?
“Druk” focuses on four men, high school teachers in Copenhagen, Denmark, who are having a communal mid-life crisis. They are close friends – the kind that would do more than loan their buddy a shovel; they’d help him bury the body and ask no questions.
They are going through the motions in the classroom. The honeymoon is long gone at home.
And so, they settle on a plan to rejuvenate their lives.
The Danish answer: Bottoms up. Smirnoff from dawn to dusk.
One has read a dubious study that says that a steady buzz improves the hive. Humans are born with an alcohol deficit, best addressed like vitamin C deficits – with continual supplements.
Phase One of the Binge Experiment is admittedly amusing. Having a buzz does make the teachers more entertaining in the classroom – with slightly recharged batteries at home.
This opening could have been scripted by Gonzo journalist Hunter Thompson, who once mused: “I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they've always worked for me.”
Phase Two, however, when they increase the dosage, follows the AA handbook – warnings at work, arguments at home. Add depression. One even wets the bed.
These friends have different tolerances. One manages to keep his balance and has sensitive interactions with students. Another is in freefall - his chute’s not going to open.
And then comes Phase Three, the final act. See for yourself, and then we’ll gather to deconstruct just what the ending means. I welcome a lively debate.
The central focus is on Martin, played by Mads Mikkelsen, a charismatic Danish actor. Mikkelsen was a professional ballet dancer until 31. Like John Travolta, he often has dancing cameos to please fans who love to see him move. Even at 55, he’s graceful and powerful.
The story concludes showcasing Mikkelsen in an extended dance number – outdoor jazz improv - during a graduation celebration for his students.
In Denmark, the film is popular with youth, who are binging on it. They apparently see it more as a celebratory tale than a cautionary one.
Seeing teachers make self-destructive choices depressed me. The ending’s final sip was bittersweet, at best – mostly bitter.
But I will join those praising the film as a well-directed, revealing look at male mid-life miscalculations. Adult male friendship is sweetly showcased by superb actors.
The best performance might be by Marie Bonnevie as Martin’s wife, who loves the man she married, but not the man he’s becoming.
A sidenote. Vinterberg’s young daughter died just before filming started. She was slated to have a role. I suspect part of the authentic sadness emanates from that tragedy that hung over filming.
I left haunted by that final dance number – joyous leaping, bottle in hand, by a man who is no longer welcome at home.
Sad, just plain sad. Chilling, actually.