TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. The new Danish film "Another Round" is nominated for two Oscars and won best film director, script and actor at the European Film Awards. It was directed by Thomas Vinterberg and stars Mads Mikkelsen as one of four teachers who engage in an experiment with drinking alcohol. "Another Round" is now streaming on Hulu and major VOD outlets. Our critic-at-large John Powers says that the film is a Hollywood movie in the garb of a Danish art film.
JOHN POWERS, BYLINE: In one of his many hymns to drinking, that Greek bard of the barstool Charles Bukowski explained the eternal promise of drunkenness. It takes away the obvious, he wrote, and maybe if you could get away from the obvious often enough, you wouldn't become obvious yourself. This claim gets a test drive in "Another Round," a crowd-pleasing Danish movie that's the frontrunner for this year's Oscar for best international feature film.
Directed by Thomas Vinterberg, himself a surprise nominee for best director, "Another Round" has an amusingly louche premise. Four middle-aged high school teachers decide to see whether their lives will be better if they always have alcohol in their system. Mads Mikkelsen stars as Martin, a one-time livewire who's become a bored and boring teacher and a detached father and husband. One night he joins his pals Peter and Tommy for their friend Nikolaj's 40th birthday dinner. Over many bottles, Nikolaj tells them about a Norwegian psychiatrist who argues that human bodies are designed to run best with .05% alcohol in their bloodstream. In America, .08% makes you legally drunk.
Telling themselves they're doing research - why, they'll write a paper - the four agree to try the idea out. The next day they knock back some booze before entering the classroom, and at first Bukowski and the Norwegian shrink appear to be right. Walking around with a nice buzz, they feel liberated from the obvious in the world and in themselves. As for Martin, he not only turns back into a funny, inspiring teacher but an attentive and romantic family man. In fact, the experiment is going so well that Martin suggests things might go even better with even more alcohol in their system. How could anything go wrong?
Before getting to what exactly goes wrong, though, I want to emphasize that "Another Round" is a very entertaining film. It's energetic, attentively shot and exceedingly well-acted, which is impressive because it's so easy to overdo playing drunk. While all four friends are terrific, the film rightly orbits around Mikkelsen, a genuine movie star whose ambiguous, slightly sinister good looks make even the early, boring Martin charismatic. Whether tippling, moping or dancing - at which he's great, by the way - he's as good here as any of this year's best actor nominees.
This is Mikkelsen's second collaboration with Vinterberg, who made his name as cocreator of the movement known as Dogme 95. It's sought to do for film what punk had done for music - strip away its pricy, overproduced commercial slickness and get back to something purer, more real and more aggressive. Vinterberg's breakthrough 1998 film "The Celebration" was a sensationally good example, and like so many Dogme films, it was also gleefully naughty. Two decades on, Vinterberg has kept some of that movement's trademarks, from the jittery handheld camera that captures flickering emotions to its promise of the transgressive.
The film's Danish title is "Druk," which means binge drinking, a far less inviting title than "Another Round." Curiously enough, the English title is truer to the film. You see, despite its surface realism and apparently bold theme, "Another Round" is the kind of safe film Dogme rejected. Now, Vinterberg is no square, and his film is clearly rebelling against our modern puritanism about intoxication. He wants to celebrate the boozing and camaraderie that sustains a drinking culture like Denmark, and that's fair enough. Still, this doesn't free him from his obligations to the reality lurking in his premise.
When I suggested earlier that things go wrong, I meant with the film, not the characters. Because "Another Round" sets up a provocative situation with four men drinking far too much, we expect it to provoke a deeper understanding of alcohol, men and their midlife crises. That's what John Cassavetes sought to do with his bold if unlikable 1970 film "Husbands." Here, despite a few painful moments, Vinterberg steers us in the opposite direction, building toward a conventionally upbeat finale that isn't merely sentimental but exuberantly so. That said, it doesn't really bother me that so many viewers love "Another Round" and revel in its Hollywood ending. After all, the whole world feels like it's been mired in a midlife crisis for the last year, so it cheers people up to see a movie in which drinking too much actually makes things better.
GROSS: John Powers reviewed the Danish film "Another Round," which is now streaming on Hulu. If you'd like to catch up on FRESH AIR interviews you missed, like this week's interview with Pete Docter and Kemp Powers, the director and co-director of the Oscar-nominated animated film "Soul" - Kemp Powers is also nominated for an Oscar for his screenplay for "One Night In Miami" - check out our podcast. You'll find lots of FRESH AIR interviews.
(SOUNDBITE OF CARLA BLEY'S "DRINKING MUSIC")
GROSS: Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Roberta Shorrock, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Ann Marie Baldonado, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley and Kayla Latimore. I'm Terry Gross.
(SOUNDBITE OF CARLA BLEY'S "DRINKING MUSIC") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.