While Danish Oscar entry “Another Round” has been considered a leading contender for Best International Feature Film for months, few expected director Thomas Vinterberg to crack the Best Director category, least of all the filmmaker himself. Vinterberg, who became an internationally celebrated auteur with the 1998 Dogme ’95 breakout “The Celebration,” has blossomed into one of the most celebrated names in Scandinavian cinema today. Now, he’s made history as the first Danish filmmaker to garner a Best Director nomination, where he’s nominated alongside the likes of David Fincher and Chloé Zhao, and the story behind his efforts to finish the movie are some of the most profound you’ll hear this season.
Vinterberg’s career has weaved and bobbed over the years, but he’s hardly a newcomer to the Oscar season blitz: Vinterberg’s 2012 thriller “The Hunt” was nominated seven years ago, and “Another Round” reunited him with that movie’s star, Mads Mikkelsen. Here, the actor plays a high school teacher who joins a couple of pals in attempting to drink booze throughout the day to evade their midlife crises.
The movie oscillates between dark comedy and tragedy, with a woozy sense of determination steeped in the tragic backdrop to the project. Vinterberg originally envisioned the movie as a starring vehicle for his teenage daughter, Ida, who died in a car crash just as the production began. Putting “Another Round” into the world has forced Vinterberg to confront this trauma all over again. Over Zoom at the tail-end of many interviews with Danish television, Vinterberg reflected on that process as well as the historic significance of his nominations.
It sounds like this is the big news story in Denmark today. You’ve been making movies for decades. Does this make you wonder where they’ve been hiding all this time?
Right? Exactly! [laughs] Where have you been hiding? Yeah, there was a lot of media interest. Apparently this hasn’t happened before in Denmark, with a director’s nomination. That was a great surprise to all of us.
Why do you think that is?
We all know that the Academy is changing, growing, becoming increasingly international. There’s a lot of voters in Europe. Last year, “Parasite” was groundbreaking and changed everything about the history of the Oscars. A film in a language that no one understands is apparently no longer as alien as it was before.
This is obviously a very personal project for you. What was your reaction when you saw these nominations pop onto the screen?
They were two very different experiences, because the foreign-language — or, rather, the International Feature Film category — is something we’ve been working on for a long time. I had hopes, but no expectations, because I never have that. It was a great relief. But Best Director was a total surprise, which elevated the day into a sense of ecstasy. Of course, I made this film alongside the experience of a huge tragedy in my life. I lost my daughter. So all these praises, the awards and nominations that have come to this movie, I feel that they are honoring her movie. That makes this whole movie on a different level, the likeness of which I’ve never experienced before.
Understandably, this is a difficult issue for you to discuss, yet every awards campaign requires a lot of promotion. What is like for you to have to talk about this huge loss in such a public manner?
It’s a bit of a dilemma to me, and will continue to be. On the one hand, I feel that if I do not talk about it, it will be strange, because she’s an inseparable part of making this movie. And on the other hand, I don’t want to make it a story. So it’s been a dilemma. I’m just trying to find a balance with these things, which obviously is difficult. But not talking about her would be a bit like forgetting her and putting her aside. I don’t want to do that.
One aspect of “Another Round” that is striking in light of your earlier films is that this movie invited people into its character’s struggle more. In a way, it’s warm — which is not a knock on your earlier movies, but they often seem more cynical about life. How conscious are you of making a film that is more —
Hopeful, if you will? I’m thinking about that. I’m glad that you feel that this film is embracing that. I’m not that self-conscious, sitting down and making a decision about what kind of filmmaker to be. It’s an exploration each time. In this case, I felt a story about alcohol needs the laugh, the love, the sense of togetherness because that’s what alcohol can do. I don’t know how many married couples you know who met each other sober. Alcohol is, to some extent, about togetherness. Through that, the film became warmer than I’m used to.
What value do you see in the impact of a film like this getting an elevated profile by the Oscars?
Courtesy Cannes Film Festival
It’s frightening to see how many countries and people relate to a movie about alcohol! But of course people understand and acknowledge that the film is about more than just drinking. Spirit means more than just alcohol. It’s a film about trying to live instead of just existing and apparently that speaks to a lot of people, particularly now in the pandemic, when people are isolated. They’re watching this movie where people are actually sharing a bottle, which feels almost illegal. The fact that it travels internationally is because these topics are universal, I guess, but I have to say it surprised me because it’s probably the most Danish film I’ve done. It’s digging into Danish drinking culture in a way that I wasn’t sure would translate to anyone but Danes. What we can learn from this is that when things become specific, and detailed, they grow. When they become general — or generic — it fades, and people lose interest. It’s a very interesting lesson that has taken me half of a lifetime to work out. When I dig my hands into my local soil, then the world pays attention.
Originally, “Another Round” was going to launch at Cannes last May. It was still a part of the official Cannes 2020 selection, but the festival didn’t happen. Of course, “The Hunt” launched out of Cannes several years ago and Mads Mikkelsen won Best Actor, so you know the kind of impact that the lavish festival launch can have. What sort of challenges do you think its absence created for “Another Round”?
Well, there was a Cannes, anyway. The selection did create a lot of attention. I did go to France for Thierry Fremaux’s great festival in Lyon and I went to Italy before the lockdown there. We’ve been touring a little bit before everything locked down. It was sensational to be there with the movie and feel the audience, the ovations and stuff. The rest has been happening online. It’s been surreal, but it’s been OK, because I’ve met so many people. I’ve met great directors. Half of it wouldn’t have been possible if I had to travel to all these places. So I do find some advantages to this. But I’m looking forward to this to be over and I’m really hoping for sermons at the Oscars.
How familiar are you, as an Academy member, with the other nominees in your two categories?
I had to see the international films to be able to vote. They’ve made a huge impression. I was moved by them. The level is very high. Also, some of the films that didn’t make it to the nominations were fantastic. The Norwegian film “Hope” is amazing, “I’m No Longer Here” from Mexico really moved me, and Sofia Coppola’s movie “On the Rocks” is fantastic. Those are some of the ones left out. In my [international] category, there are some really great films — “Collective” made a huge impression on me, as did “Quo Vadis, Aida?” So I feel like I’m in really great company, and of course, that’s also true for the directors categories.
And now you’re competing with them. How do you feel about that?
Well, I’m trying not to let this get to me. After all, what we’re doing is not sports. I appreciate the competition because it creates attention — and tension — and a lot of energy around what we do, and what we do is a mass medium. Winning is an encouragement, but celebrating colleagues that win is an encouragement, too. So I’m trying not to get caught up with this too much. I’m trying to enjoy the Academy and the cineastes who are encouraging me. That’s what I find touching in all of this.
The director’s branch really came through for you. What has been most striking to you about the feedback from filmmakers that you’ve received?
I don’t want to pick one from another. I’ve had some great conversations. Guillermo del Toro made a great impression with me. James Grey did as well. Mira Nair. Sofia Coppola, who I’ve been following for years! Tomorrow, I’m meeting Paolo Sorrentino, who stole my Oscar years ago! [Sorrentino won for “The Great Beauty” in 2014, when Vinterberg was nominated for “The Hunt.”] I’m gonna give him a hard time. [laughs] I’m humbled by all this, proud, and overwhelmed.
It’s going to be a late night for you in Europe when the Oscars air. How do you expect that experience to go?
[Vinterberg raises a full glass of champagne to the camera] Today has been coffee and champagne. We don’t know what the next one will bring. We’re going to have a nice night. We’re all very excited. I’m at my producer’s apartment, which is actually legal, and we’re going to have some great food. My family’s here. It’s going to be great.
“Another Round” is available to stream on Hulu.