Thoughts on the first restaurant scene in ‎Thomas Vinterberg’s, Another Round

1000 WORDS

Originally written as a formative essay for
Screen Criticism & Analysis module, at the University of West England (UWE) in March 2022.

Warning, this essay contains major spoilers.

The first restaurant scene in Another Round where we celebrate Nikolaj’s 40th birthday party, not only confirms Tommy’s outsider status, but heralds his death. It teaches us how to precisely read Martin’s thoughts for the rest of the film and serves a clearly delineation between act one and act two without anyone leaving the table.

All four men are seated and the waiter immediately takes the first of several drinks orders. Background tapestries of greener pastures are held soft in lighting and focus, as are the other diners. Tommy is quickly outed as different with his choice of drink. He is the only one to insist on a draught beer amongst all this refinement and given that we have already seen his job as a PE teacher and ‘basic’ home in the previous scene, the filmmaker is being clear that Tommy is working class both financially and socially. 

Further clarity is offered when we look at the men’s wardrobe. Of the four, Tommy is alone in a suit and tie. The others are noticeably more casual, so we can ask why is Tommy’s tie black, his shirt grey and suit black? A foreshadow is given towards the middle of the sequence when the quartet sings (most) of the first verse of Fredmans’s Epistle No.30. The last line we hear (translated from Swedish) “…consumption is laying thee in the grave man!” is under Martin’s point of view – a pan from Nikolaj across Peter that hangs just a little too long on the empty space where we would expect to see Tommy come into shot. The table is circular and the men are equally spaced but the framing and blocking of this shot excludes Tommy in his funeral suit from Martin’s vision and from our expectation.. 

Light from an unseen source gloriously illuminates the table and glassware whilst providing primary illumination for all the men. We are shown in the wide shots an empty space where we might reasonably expect the practical light to be. It’s exclusion suggests that this altar for alcohol, almost blooming, has its own energy. A refinement of a campfire for the men to sit around as stories of rich food and drink are told by the waiter. Martin reinforces once more how locked in he is to the denial of pleasure and engagement – not even lemon in the water! Perhaps we can joke that he is bitter enough already, but we can certainly say that anything that creates flavour or provokes stimulus is being rejected by Martin at this point in his journey. 

Nikolaj outlines the idea for a “0.05% BAC life” and we stay with him for the intro of the topic, but we cut to Martin on “you’re more relaxed – and poised – and musical and open. More courageous in general.” creeping closer all the way. Martin’s gaze is towards Nikolaj but he is also looking inwards, deeply listening. Just for a moment, he looks away to consider what has been said before the spell is broken by Peter’s line “I could use a little more self-confidence and spirit…”. That wide shot lasts until “we all could” from Tommy.  And so we know all the men will be going on this journey with Martin.

We can also look at the immediately preceding sequence where Peter helps his dog to pee – “he just needs some help getting started”. The long hold on Martin staring in vacant reflection can be read as an invitation to consider that off camera dialogue as an internal commentary for Martin.

Back in the restaurant scene, Nikolj pulls no punches when telling Martin what his problems are. It’s significant that  just as before with “refined and poised”, whilst Nikolaj is speaking, the camera stays on Martin, but only for the parts Martin feels to be true. Caviar is placed down and Martin unnecessarily puts the water glass aside. Emptiness and neutrality are being moved to ensure space for something rich and unfertilised from beneath the surface. Potential for life is in front of him. The chilled vodka glasses are beautifully shaped and lit – irresistible once filled and a sip is finally taken. Off camera we are literally told to “Listen” then hear  “this is amazing, this is great” all while we watch Martin agree. A smirk bonds the inner thought with the timing of the offscreen lines exactly to the expressions. Now Martin is fully primed to accept the journey offered by the quartet about to sing Fredmans’s Epistle No.30. 

Paul Britten Austin’s translation of Fredmans’s Epistle No.30 tells us the song is Swedish. We only get this part of the epsitle’s first verse in the scene 

Drain off thy glass! See death upon thee waiting,
Sharpens his sword and peers in at the door.
Be not afraid! He but essays the grating,
Friend to thy tomb; and grants thee one year more.
Movitz!,consumption is laying thee in the grave man!
‘cello ~ ~ ~

With the following last lines of the verse being omitted. Perhaps because the above lines are the ones coming to pass in this moment and to be understood by Martin at this point. The final two lines are the steps he will take later to address his situation.

Pluck an octave man!
Tune thy sweet notes, sing life’s fair spring of yore.

The music drowns out the background noise and all other conversation. The lines are delivered with the camera on Martin, apart from the last which belongs to the absence of Tommy. Martin takes the eggs and fertilises them with a drained glass of vodka in time with the quartet humming the cello part. The internal fire is lit and Martin nods. His journey has begun. In case we’re not sure this is the end of act one, the camera jump cuts mid-drink, crossing the line to put Martin frame left for the first time in this scene.

And the dialogue tells us “We have reached the main course”

Paul Burke, @poburke March 2022

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