I’ve been waiting for one of this year’s films to sweep me away and send a shiver of movie magic up my spine. Another Round came along at the perfect time to revitalize my love of cinema as a healing artform. In the midst of a strange, somber awards season in which we can’t find comfort in the warmth of a movie theater, this film — Denmark’s official Oscar submission for Best International Feature Film — soothes the soul.

Although it’s set in Copenhagen, Another Round instantly feels familiar. It opens with what looks like an American drinking game — teenagers racing around a lake and taking pit stops at benches to down bottles of beer. The film sets up Danish drinking culture in a way that hits close to home, especially now, as billboards along the highway advertise alcohol as the antidote to this toxic year. 

After its triumphant opening ode to drinking as a rite of passage, the film jarringly shifts focus toward a Copenhagen high school aiming to crack down on student drinking. We soon realize that the teens probably drink after class because of their boring teachers. 

Another Round revolves around history teacher Martin (Mads Mikkelsen) and his three closest colleagues, Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), Nikolaj (Magnus Millang) and Peter (Lars Ranthe). They’re all a bit tired and washed up, so when they take a night out to celebrate Nikolaj’s 40th birthday, the booze starts flowing. As their spirits lift, Nikolaj brings up Norwegian Finn Skårderud’s theory that humans are born with a deficit of 0.05 percent blood alcohol content. The men soon set a social experiment in motion to maintain a low level of intoxication throughout each work week in order to boost their personal and professional performance. 

They learn that a little bit of liquid courage goes a long way: Martin quickly captures the imaginations of his history students; Peter gets the choir kids to sing their hearts out; Tommy leads little soccer players to victory; and Nikolaj beams with pride as his casual mention of a theory grows into a life-changing adventure. 

Considering co-writer / director Thomas Vinterberg’s background, you could argue that he’s commenting on the experimental, collaborative spirit of filmmaking here. In 1995, he co-founded the Dogme 95 filmmaking movement alongside fellow Danish director Lars von Trier. The movement essentially aimed to strip films of any Hollywood-like excess in favor of presenting raw, human stories in a pure manner. One of the movement’s first films, The Idiots, even revolves around a group of friends engaging in a social experiment and letting loose like the characters in Another Round.

The four leads in Another Round share an endearing chemistry and genuinely feel like lifelong friends. But Mikkelsen stands out with a performance that’s at once tender, tragic, exuberant and always surprising. He makes you feel the crushing weight of Martin’s estrangement from his wife (Maria Bonnevie) and the painfully close comfort in the possibility that there’s hope for them yet. And when he drinks, you can practically feel the warmth of the alcohol flowing through your veins.

Some viewers will likely criticize the film for condoning the use of alcohol as some form of medicine or performance enhancement. But Vinterberg and co-writer Tobias Lindholm maintain a steady balance between exploring the benefits of booze and digging into the dangers of drinking. In the end, alcohol is simply the springboard for the film’s broader celebration of losing inhibitions and living in the moment. 

What started as a lark became a vital act of catharsis for Vinterberg. Four days into the production, a distracted driver killed his 19-year-old daughter, Ida, whose school serves as the film’s setting. 

“My daughter is dead, and here we have this film about alcohol. It didn’t make any sense,” Vinterberg said in an interview with the New York Times. “Unless we insisted that it become a film about life, that it become a life-affirming film.”

Living vicariously through these characters is especially refreshing as we hunker down for COVID and the coming winter.

Another Round is the movie we all need right now. Ending on the highest note of any film this year, it brims with a beautifully effervescent, human spirit that takes the edge off of 2020.