NewsCultureDrunk  - SIGNIS Prize San Sebastian 2020

Drunk  – SIGNIS Prize San Sebastian 2020

(directed by Thomas Vinterberg. Denmark, 117 minutes,2020. Starring Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Magnus Millang, Lars Ranthe, Maria Bonnevie. Rated M (Mature themes and coarse language). SIGNIS Prize at the 2020 San Sebastian International Film Festival.)

22 February 2021 (Peter Malone) – One might call this a sobering film. It focuses on a group of middle-aged men, an experiment with alcohol, and the consequences for them in their own lives, their relationships and profession, and a final challenge which is sobering – or not. (And that Danish title needs only an ‘n’ inserted for drunk! In fact, the word is more active, meaning ‘drinking’.)

This is a Danish film which will have resonances in countries around the world, especially those with alcohol problems (with the screenplay here making comment on their prevalence in Denmark), and especially with a male audience. The director, Thomas Vinterberg, has been making striking and significant films for more than two decades. He made the first Dogme 95 film – Festen (1998). [Dogme is the philosophy of pure filmmaking.] Vinterberg then moved into more complex filmmaking, in Danish (The Hunt, with the star of this film, Mikkelson) as well as in English (Dear WendyFar from the Madding Crowd).

There is a raucous opening to the film. High school students are competing in a running race with a difference. Runners have to down a bottle of beer at each stage, with points deducted for any vomiting, while the other students cheer and leer. It’s a celebration.

Then we see some of those students in class, bored to tears by their history teacher, Martin (Mikkelson), who seems to be somewhat depressed, being summoned to a meeting of students and parents to improve his methods. At home, he sees his sons lounging about, and seems sometimes remote from his wife who has nursing night shifts. He relies on his friends at the school, Thomas who is a sports trainer (and some engaging moments with his little charges, especially Specs, who has some champion moments), Nikolai, psychologist, married with three children, including a recent baby, and Peter, music teacher and choirmaster.

Nikolai comes up with information about a theory from a Swedish psychologist that as human beings we are 0.05 under the expected limit for alcohol in our bodies. Then, a somewhat mad (juvenile?) decision, to check whether the theory is correct or not. On the one hand, a lot of binge drinking, hidden drinking, but only during the daytime, nothing at night. On the other hand, each of them comes more alive than they have been for years, Martin beginning to enthuse his class and relate well with them.

So, the tantalising drama for the audience is whether they will prove the theory or not (most of us thinking that it is nonsense and the experiment, which they begin to write up, fore-doomed). Also tantalising is the portrait of each of them as they experience the effect of more and more alcohol, finding occasions and excuses, and the consequences in school and out of school, and for Martin and Nikolai, their relationship with their wives.

Some tragedy, some joy, and we leave the cinema wondering how it is going to turn out, especially for Martin who has grown more desperate.

Peter Malone MSC is an associate Jesuit Media


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