Another Round

by Michael Young | October 8, 2021
6 min read
"Another Round" movie poster
Source: Samuel Goldwyn Films

Editor’s Note: Continuing with his reviews of “movies with a conscience,” the Sun’s film critic evaluates this year’s winner of the Academy Award for Best International Feature, a Danish production that explores the dual nature of alcohol as a life enhancer and a depressant. Available on Netflix DVD, to stream on Hula and to rent for $3.99 on Amazon Prime Video, Google Play and YouTube. View trailer here.

Ernest Hemingway had a steadfast rule—no drinking after 8 p.m. and never on weekends. In other words, he could drink only when he was working.  That work brought him both Pulitzer and Nobel prizes.

Now I’m not pretending to be another Hemingway, but I have to admit that I frequently settle down at the keyboard with a glass of wine by my side. There is no denying that, for me, a glass or two of red wine eliminates life’s little irritants, facilitates my concentration and helps to channel me into a “flow state.” Even if it doesn’t really help me write, it makes me at least think that I’m doing better at it.

Humans and alcohol have a long history. They have found evidence of fermented honey, rice and fruit with human artifacts dating back to 8,000 B.C. in the Yellow River Valley of China. “Another Round,” a Danish production, takes as its premise that humans actually need alcohol to function at their best. This is an interesting conceit, but a false interpretation of a study by a Norwegian psychiatrist, Finn Skarderud. The film says that Skarderud found that humans are born with a .05% blood alcohol deficit and, so his theory goes, humans should drink continuously enough to eliminate that deficit. Turns out Skarderud never made this assertion and is very upset at how “Another Round” misinterprets his work—but that is another story.

Four Danish high school teachers, all stuck in the humdrum of lackluster careers and unsatisfying personal relationships, somehow latch onto Skarderud’s “theory” and decide to test the proposition by adopting Hemingway’s rule. They drink only while “on the job,” teaching students at their high school. They secret vodkas in small flasks and in their water bottles and, true to both Hemingway and Skarderud, manage to maintain a reasonable level of intoxication all day long.

The results are remarkable. Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), the P.E. coach, steers his various teams to new levels of performances and even makes a game-time hero out of a small, timid kid nicknamed Specs. Peter (Lars Ranthe) is the philosophy instructor. He learns to relate effectively to a poor young man, desperate to pass his senior exams, and helps this student ace his orals with a stunning account of Kierkegaard and his concept of failure. Nikolai (Magnus Millang) turns around his undistinguished choristers, getting them to harmonize on complex parts with enchanting voices none of them imagined they possessed.

And Martin (in another outstanding performance from Mads Mikkelson, best known for playing Hannibal Lector on NBC’s “Hannibal”) reinvigorates his world history class, turning what both he and his students had assumed was an intrinsically boring subject into an animated discussion of how specific individuals, with their unique personalities, can make an important difference to their times. Martin also finds that his renewed passion for life recharges his marriage (yes, there is a tender sex scene), and renews his bonds with his children. Martin, perhaps more than the other three characters, ends up more deeply engaged—all from maintaining that elusive .05 blood alcohol level.

But, as many of us know, that wonderful sense of well-being that comes right after the second drink can quickly morph into a dangerous sense of invincibility and an unrealistic set of expectations. One night, as the four educators are reveling in their successes, Martin proposes that they “up the game” by taking their drinking to the next level. For a while, they enjoy even more success. Things start to get complicated. The teachers find it increasingly difficult to hide their inebriation.

cavorting in the streets of Copenhagen
At first performance-enhancing for the movie’s four protagonists, alcohol ultimately wins the control battle—with sobering results. Source: Trust Nordisk

Then the alcohol wins the control battle—fear, and inhibitions, disappear. And so does better judgment. Catastrophe is just around the corner, and when it is encountered, it can have a sobering effect.  Or, in some tragic cases, it does not.

“Another Round” won the this year’s Academy Award for Best International Feature, and its director, Thomas Vinterberg, was also nominated. Of the other International Feature nominees, I have seen only “Romania’s Collective,” an entirely different kind of film, so I’m unprepared to say whether “Another Round” deserved the Oscar. But I can say that the partnership of Vinterberg and Mikkelson is an established and terrific collaboration. They first worked together in the 2012 feature, “The Hunt,” in which Mikkelson plays a kindergarten teacher who is unfairly accused of sexual abuse. These two artists have an intimate understanding of each other’s abilities to bring out dramatic moments laced with dark comedy. Witness a telling scene in “Another Round” of just how bad things have gotten when Martin attempts to measure his BAC (blood alcohol concentration) level with a baby monitor!

Mikkelson is one of this era’s underestimated actors. He had a wonderful role in “Casino Royale” as a James Bond villain (who cried blood out of one eye). He managed to convey just the right amount of reserve and evil. In “Another Round,” he brings his classical ballet training to the final scene, ending the movie on an optimistic note with an uplifting dance. His exuberant moves are all the more impressive when you consider that Mikkelson executed the choreography himself without body doubles.

The movie excels technically in other ways. The editing is tight, and the cinematography is terrific, particularly in how it simulates re the effects of drinking by giving certain scenes a woozy quality. This wizardry is especially noteworthy given that, supposedly, none of the actors drank during or prior to filming.

“Another Round” is dedicated to Vinterberg’s high school-age daughter, Ida, who was killed in a car crash just days into filming. While alcohol was, apparently, not directly involved in the accident, it should be noted that Denmark has the highest rate of teenage drinking in all of Europe. Recent attempts to raise the drinking age from 16 to 18 were voted down because, it was reported, adults wanted children to have fond memories like they did of their teenage drinking years.

While Martin gets his life straightened around after his experimentation with alcohol, not everyone else does—neither in the movie, nor in real life. Remember that Hemingway committed suicide at age 61. Don’t worry—I really don’t compare myself to Hemingway, I’m well beyond 61, and I have none of the anxiety of trying to live up to the expectations that come with prestige prizes. So, I’ll be writing reviews for a while longer.  4 stars


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Understanding New Mexico's proposed new social studies standards for K-12 students

“The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.”
—National Council for the Social Studies 

Reader Michael L. Hayes of Las Cruces commented: What impresses me is that both the proposed standards and some of the criticisms of them are equally grotesque. I make this bold statement on the basis of my experience as a peripatetic high school and college English teacher for 45 years in many states with many students differing in race, religion, gender and socioeconomic background, and as a civic activist (PTA) in public education (My career, however, was as an independent consultant mainly in defense, energy and the environment.)

The proposed social studies standards are conceptually and instructionally flawed. For starters, a “performance standard” is not a standard at all; it is a task. Asking someone to explain something is not unlike asking someone to water the lawn. Nothing measures the performance, but without a measure, there is no standard. The teacher’s subjective judgment will be all that matters, and almost anything will count as satisfying a “performance standard,” even just trying. Students will be left to wonder “what is on the teacher’s mind?” or “have I sucked up enough.”

Four other quick criticisms of the performance standards. One, they are nearly unintelligible because they are written in jargon. PED’s use of jargon in a document intended for the public is worrisome. Bureaucrats often use jargon to confuse or conceal something uninformed, wrong or unworthy. As a result, most parents, some school board members and more than a few teachers do not understand them.

Two, the performance standards are so vague that they fail to define the education which teachers are supposed to teach, students are supposed to learn, and parents are supposed to understand. PED does not define words like “explain” or “describe” so that teachers can apply “standards” consistently and fairly. The standards do not indicate what teachers are supposed to know in order to teach or specify what students are supposed to learn. Supervisors cannot know whether teachers are teaching social studies well or poorly. The standards are so vague that the public, especially parents or guardians, cannot know the content of public education.

Three, many performance standards are simply unrealistic, especially at grade level. Under “Ethnic, Cultural and Identity Performance Standards”; then under “Diversity and Identity”; then under “Kindergarten,” one such standard is: “Identify how their family does things both the same as and different from how other people do things.” Do six-year-olds know how other people do things? Do they know whether these things are relevant to diversity and identity? Or another standard: “Describe their family history, culture, and past to current contributions of people in their main identity groups.” (A proficient writer would have hyphenated the compound adjective to avoid confusing the reader.) Do six-year-olds know so much about these things in relation to their “identity group”? Since teachers obviously do not teach them about these other people and have not taught them about these groups, why are these and similar items in the curriculum; or do teachers assign them to go home and collect this information?

Point four follows from “three”; some information relevant to some performance measures requires a disclosure of personal or family matters. The younger the students, the easier it is for teachers to invade their privacy and not only their privacy, but also the privacy of their parents or guardians, or neighbors, who may never be aware of these disclosures or not become aware of them until afterward. PED has no right to design a curriculum which requires teachers to ask students for information about themselves, parents or guardians, or neighbors, or puts teachers on the spot if the disclosures reveal criminal conduct. (Bill says Jeff’s father plays games in bed with his daughter. Lila says Angelo’s mother gives herself shots in the arm.) Since teacher-student communications have no legal protection to ensure privacy, those disclosures may become public accidentally or deliberately. The effect of these proposal standards is to turn New Mexico schools and teachers into investigative agents of the state and students into little informants or spies.

This PED proposal for social studies standards is a travesty of education despite its appeals to purportedly enlightened principles. It constitutes a clear and present danger to individual liberty and civil liberties. It should be repudiated; its development, investigated; its PED perpetrators, dismissed. No state curriculum should encourage or require the disclosure of private personal information.

I am equally outraged by the comments of some of T or C’s school board members: Christine LaFont and Julianne Stroup, two white Christian women, who belong to one of the larger minorities in America and assume white and Christian privileges. In different terms but for essentially the same reason, both oppose an education which includes lessons about historical events and trends, and social movements and developments, of other minorities. They object to the proposal for the new social studies standards because of its emphasis on individual and group identities not white or Christian. I am not going to reply with specific objections; they are too numerous and too pointed.

Ms. LaFont urges: “It’s better to address what’s similar with all Americans. It’s not good to differentiate.” Ms. Stroup adds: “Our country is not a racist country. We have to teach to respect each other. We have civil rights laws that protect everyone from discrimination. We need to teach civics, love and respect. We need to teach how to be color blind.”

Their desires for unity and homogeneity, and for mutual respect, are a contradiction and an impossibility. Aside from a shared citizenship, which implies acceptance of the Constitution, the rule of law and equality under the law, little else defines Americans. We are additionally defined by our race, religion, national origin, etc. So mutual respect requires individuals to respect others different from themselves. Disrespect desires blacks, Jews or Palestinians to assimilate or to suppress or conceal racial, religious or national origin aspects of their identity. The only people who want erasure of nonwhite, non-Christian, non-American origin aspects of identity are bigots. Ms. LaFont and Ms. Stroud want standards which, by stressing similarities and eliding differences, desire the erasure of such aspects. What they want will result in a social studies curriculum that enables white, Christian, native-born children to grow up to be bigots and all others to be their victims. This would be the academic equivalent of ethnic cleansing.


This postmortem of a case involving a 75-year-old women who went missing from her home in Hillsboro last September sheds light on the bounds of law enforcement’s capacity to respond, especially in large rural jurisdictions such as Sierra County, and underscores the critical role the public, as well as concerned family and friends, can play in assisting a missing person’s search.

Reader Jane Debrott of Hillsboro commented: Thank you for your article on the tragic loss of Betsey. I am a resident of Hillsboro, a friend of Rick and Betsey, and a member of H.E.L.P. The thing that most distresses me now, is the emphasis on Rick’s mis-naming of the color of their car. I fear that this fact will cause Rick to feel that if he had only gotten the facts right, Betsey may have been rescued before it was too late. The incident was a series of unavoidable events, out of everyone’s control, and we will never know what place the correct color of her car may have had in the outcome. It breaks my heart to think that Rick has had one more thing added to his “what ifs” concerning this incident.

Diana Tittle responded: Dear Jane, the Sun undertook this investigation at the request of a Hillsboro resident concerned about the town’s inability to mount a prompt, coordinated response to the disappearance of a neighbor. From the beginning, I shared your concern about how our findings might affect Betsy’s family and friends. After I completed my research and began writing, I weighed each detail I eventually chose to include against my desire to cause no pain and the public’s right to know about the strengths and limitations of law enforcement’s response and the public’s need to know about how to be of meaningful assistance.

There was information I withheld about the state police investigation and the recovery. But I decided to include the issue of the car’s color because the individuals who spotted Betsy’s car emphasized how its color had been key to their identification of it as the vehicle described in Betsy’s Silver Alert. Because the misinformation was corrected within a couple of hours, I also included in this story the following editorial comment meant to put the error in perspective: “The fact that law enforcement throughout the state was on the lookout in the crucial early hours after Betsy’s disappearance for an elderly woman driving a “light blue” instead of a “silver” Accord would, in retrospect, likely not have changed the outcome of the search” [emphasis added].

I would also point to the story’s overarching conclusion about the inadvisability of assigning blame for what happened: “In this case, a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances, many of them beyond human control, hindered the search that it would fall to Hamilton’s department to lead.”

It is my hope that any pain caused by my reporting will eventually be outweighed by its contribution to a better community understanding of what it will take in the future to mount a successful missing person’s search in rural Sierra County.

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