Director – Thomas Vinterberg – 2020 – Denmark – Cert. 12a – 115m
Four teachers decide to test the theory that human beings function better with a little alcohol permanently in their blood – out on rental on various platforms including BFI Player and Curzon Home Cinema in the UK from Monday, September 27th
Racing round the lake carrying a crate of beer. Drink a bottle at every stop. Penalty points if you puke, less points if you all puke together as a team.
That’s a typical weekend activity for their students, but four teachers are an older generation, some of them married with kids and dealing with more mature relationship issues.
One of them has been reading an academic theory that humans have an alcohol deficiency of about 0.5% and convinces the other three to help him conduct an experiment. They will all consume the amount of alcohol required to bring them up to the theory’s optimum level.
The experiment is initially successful, but then wreaks havoc within each of their lives as they up the quantity of alcohol to the next level.
Using intertitles to indicate the increasing percentage of alcohol in the blood as the four drink collectively or individually, this drama charts what happens to the four as they pursue their idea to its logical conclusion and beyond.
Far from being merely a morality tale telling people how to behave, this is genuinely interested in its characters, their interaction and the consequences. If there’s a main protagonist of the four, it’s Martin (Mads Mikkelsen).
He is initially regarded badly by his students for doing a poor job with their exams fast approaching and his marriage to Anika (Maria Bonnevie) has run out of steam, but all that seems to improve with the initial increase of his alcohol intake. Suddenly the students feel he’s doing better while his wife’s passion for him is rekindled on a family canoeing/camping trip.
His colleague Peter (Lars Ranthe) encourages student Sebastian (Albert Rudbeck Lindhardt) to drink before an exam to encourage both self-confidence and memory.
As the four up their alcohol intake further, PE teacher Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen) is turned into a full blown alcoholic with devastating results. The scene where he shows up late and drunk for a school staff room meeting has the mark if tragedy about it.
Vinterberg and his cast have a lot of fun with all this. Each of the characters and their actions inspire both horror and sympathy at different times and while the evils of drink are never far away, the overall tone here is not so much moralistic as one imbued with a spirit of investigation and curiosity. Vinterberg is equally happy showing us the making of an exotic cocktail as he is in exploring either the benevolent or destructive effects of drink.
And as if that weren’t enough, as a bonus, Mikkelsen shows off his ‘jazz ballet’ skills, never before seen on screen.
In cinemas: Friday, July 2nd.