Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB
Original Title: Druk
Denmark/Sweden/Netherlands, 2020. Zentropa Entertainments, Film i Vast, Zentropa International Sweden, Topkapi Films, Zentropa International Netherlands, Det Danske Filminstitut, TV2 Danmark, Eurimages, Nederlands Filmfonds, Svenska Filminstitutet, Netherlands Film Production Incentive, Zentropa Productions 2, MEDIA Programme of the European Union. Screenplay by Thomas Vinterberg, Tobias Lindholm. Cinematography by Sturla Brandth Grøvlen. Produced by Kasper Dissing, Sisse Graum Jorgensen. Music by Mikkel Maltha. Production Design by Sabine Hviid. Costume Design by Ellen Lens, Manon Rasmussen. Film Editing by Janus Billeskov Jansen, Anne Osterud.
Listless and uninspired, high school teacher Martin (Mads Mikkelsen) is such a zombie at the front of the classroom that his students often leave the room in protest, while their parents call a meeting to let him know that they are concerned about his inability to lead their kids through their university entrance exams. At a birthday dinner with his three closest friends and fellow staff members, Martin mentions a theory he has read that humans have an alcohol deficiency that requires a certain level of intoxication to rectify, and the men decide to try it out as a challenge: from sunup to sundown they will maintain a 0.5% alcohol intake, will switch to water in the evening and no drinking on the weekends.
Stepping into his classroom after a few nips from the vodka bottle secretly imbibed in the school bathroom, Martin is suddenly the toast of the town, teaching history with inspiring, contextual verve and connecting with the youngsters on a personal level. Nikolaj (Magnus Millang) is getting similar results down the hall, soccer coach Tommy (Thomas Bo ) is suddenly the world’s greatest sports instructor and earns trust from the more vulnerable children on his team and music teacher Peter (Lars Ranthe) is getting angelic sounds out of his once-shoddy choir. So thrilled are they with the results of this experiment that they decide to up the stakes, increasing the volume of alcohol intake per day which, as you can imagine, doesn’t improve the results: the students begin to notice that their teachers are always stewed, and nights at the bar see the rules get messy and the men ever more so. Martin’s brief success in the classroom is the complete opposite of the result at home, where his estrangement from his wife Anika (Maria Bonnevie) only grows more distant and eventually reaches a breaking point.
Director Thomas Vinterberg’s films often revolve around a kind of game, setting up a situation and throwing his characters into it just to see how they behave, so no surprise that there’s little emphasis on deep introspection or emotional catharsis here, but there isn’t any celebrating Boys Will Be Boys hooliganism either. Vinterberg gives his characters a set of parameters not unlike the ones he once imposed upon himself in his stricter Dogme experiments (like The Celebration) and treats his characters with a great deal of sympathy for not being able to stick to the rules, taking on Danish culture’s apparently high reliance on booze as a social mediator and coming up with no answer for how to address it in any transformative way.
The expert performances by the four leads fill out the three-dimensional characterizations of people truly unable to figure out how to navigate the disappointments of middle-age, and their ridiculous attempts to do so elicit appropriately observed responses from the people around them. Mikkelsen is particularly effective at drawing you into his centre of gravity, swallowing the majority of his words with his captivating style of muttering speech and perpetually moistened eyes.
Academy Awards: Best International Feature Film
Nomination: Best Director (Thomas Vinterberg)
Critics Choice Award Nomination: Best Foreign Language Film
Golden Globe Award Nomination: Best Foreign-Language Film
Toronto International Film Festival: 2020