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Mads Mikkelsen drinking a beer in front of high school graduates in sailor hats
Photograph: Supplied

Thomas Vinterberg: ‘So many great accomplishments have been done by people who are drunk’

The Danish director on the booze-soaked Another Round and how Mads Mikkelsen helped him work through personal tragedy

Stephen A Russell
Written by
Stephen A Russell

The teaching profession has had a rough ride in Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg’s collaborations with his old friend Mads Mikkelsen. Their first team-up was the breathtaking, Oscar-nominated The Hunt, in which the latter played a teacher accused of child abuse. A tough watch, it secured Mikkelsen a Best Actor award at Cannes.

Their latest, Another Round, is slightly easier going. This time round Mikkelsen is a Copenhagen-based educator stuck in a rut, personally and professionally, who is encouraged by his close colleagues (Thomas Bo Larsen, Lars Ranthe and Magnus Millang) to microdose themselves with booze – at work. In an interesting mirror of real-life fake news drama, they get the idea from an online study of dubious quality. At first, it seems like the scheme actually works, loosening them up a bit, but some take it further than others, to tragicomic effect.

Vinterberg almost pushed the film further. “To begin with, to be honest, I wanted a more provocative piece which was solely a celebration of alcohol,” he reveals. “This movie is world history, basically.”

They either fall or fly from there. I don’t judge this

Indeed, it includes real footage of figures like former world leaders Bill Clinton and Mikhail Gorbachev definitely on the sauce at work. “There have been so many great accomplishments by people who are drunk. And that’s what I found so fascinating. But I quickly realised that I wanted to be more honest, and not just provoke. I felt a bit of an obligation to look into the dark side of drinking.”

What he’s not here to do is pass judgement. “It’s very clear, in my movie, that I do not give you the answer,” he says. “They either fall or fly from there. I don’t judge this. And I don’t want to sell alcohol. But in Danish cinemas, youngsters with a bag of beer are seeing it for the fourth time. Then you have Anonymous Alcoholics members sitting next to them, who feel that movie is about them.”

Vinterberg trusted his actors to walk a fine line. “Like a chef in a kitchen, the first thing you do is get some good meat. These four actors, they are the biggest cannons. And I really challenged them, because the drunken thing had to work at very specific levels for each character.

Mikkelsen, in particular, brings a lot to the party, a benefit of their close working relationship. “If Mads knows exactly where he’s landing, then he can fly. And that’s where people take chances. It brings this strange feeling of certainty that we have come far together before, and we might have the chance to do that again.”

They share a love of ‘70s American cinema from the likes of Martin Scorsese and John Cassavetes. “Mads and I have grown up in the same soil, with the same heroes. We share a language of filmmaking. The Hunt made us travel together all over the world. Our wives are friends, and he lives right next door. We work out together. So there’s a sense of mutual respect, understanding and love.”

Like a chef in a kitchen, the first thing you do is get some good meat

That love was to prove invaluable four days into the shoot when Vinterberg received the call no parent wants to hear. His daughter Ida, 19, was killed in a car crash. Collapsing in despair, it would have been understandable if he had walked away from the film, but he says Ida would never have wanted that. She adored the screenplay he co-wrote regular collaborator Tobias Lindholm (A Hijacking). Ida recognised herself in the explosive release of graduating high schoolers. “She loved this vision of Copenhagen, and all the madness,” Vinterberg says. “It’s meant to be about appreciating life."

She would have appeared in the film too, as the concerned daughter of Mikkelsen’s character. It was shot at her school, with her friends as extras. And so, after the funeral, they all agreed, as a crew, to continue in her honour. Her memory infuses every scene. It’s why Vinterberg can play it back: something he usually avoids after his films open in cinemas. “This one is a pleasure to me,” he says. “You know, our defence disappeared when we made this movie. Everyone took their heart out. And they did that for me. Those actors, if you feel that there’s love on the screen, it might be because they gave me so much. They carried me through. And if you laugh at them, it might also be because those four guys did everything, they could to make their director laugh at a time when I could’.”

That makes the film’s success particularly sweet. Nominated for the Best Foreign Language Golden Globe, it’s likely to feature in the same category at the Oscars. And, perhaps more importantly, it’s been a huge box-office hit back home. “In Denmark, people have been storming to the cinemas, even [with lockdown restrictions]. I’ve never sold that many tickets, and it fills me with joy and thankfulness, because it’s made for my daughter.”

Another Round opens in Australian cinemas Feb 11.

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