"Another Round," a film about a pact by four world-weary Danish schoolteachers to spend every day drunk for a loosely scientific "experiment," was always going to walk a fine line between comedy and darkness.
Director Thomas Vinterberg wrote his script, originally a play, upon realizing many of the world's great historic feats were made by people regularly intoxicated on alcohol -- the very same substance that can rip lives and families apart.
But four days into shooting, Vinterberg's daughter was killed in a car crash. He somehow still finished the uniquely funny, tender and tragic film -- which has earned him a rare Oscar nomination for best director.
"The movie was always meant to be life-affirming and full of love, and bare to some extent... raw," Vinterberg told AFP in an interview via Zoom.
"But the tragedy that happened in my life left all defenseless and open."
Starring as the teachers are four of Vinterberg's close friends and collaborators, including former 007 villain Mads Mikkelsen, who all spent the shoot doing "everything they could to make me laugh in these circumstances."
"There was so much love on the set -- and I guess you can see that on the screen," said Vinterberg, whose movie is a favorite to take home the Oscar for best international film on Sunday.
While the film is clearly about alcohol, it is also "about living inspired, about forgetting about yourself, about being curious, and being in the moment and all that comes with drinking."
Those life-affirming elements were inspired by his daughter Ida, who was due to play Mikkelsen's daughter, and whose real-life friends play classmates who participate in a joyous teen drinking competition around a lake.
"There's an alarming bunch of people and countries who connected to this thing about drinking," joked Vinterberg.
"Yes, they drink differently in California -- they put the bottle in a [paper] bag -- whereas in Denmark, teenagers run around in the streets with bottles out," he said.
"But it seems that the film connects on a different level, and hopefully we succeeded in elevating this film... to a movie about something more."
- 'My own garden' -
Humor is not always associated with Vinterberg, co-founder of the ascetic Dogme 95 filmmaking movement with Lars Von Trier, and director of movies tackling issues such as child abuse including "The Celebration" and "The Hunt."
But Vinterberg, 51, has often defied categorization. The famous Dogme 95 "manifesto" imposing strict naturalistic limits on directors was always half serious, half tongue-in-cheek.
And while he has dabbled in Hollywood -- for instance 2015's "Far From the Madding Crowd" starring Carey Mulligan, also an Oscar nominee this year -- his most widely acclaimed films are often his most Danish and local.
"It seems like when I dig in my own garden, that's when people really get interested, also abroad," he said.
The universal themes of "Another Round" may partly explain how Vinterberg landed one of just five Oscar best director nods, for a non-English-language film (fellow nominee Lee Isaac Chung's "Minari" is in Korean and English).
"The pleasures of alcohol, but also the destructive side of drinking, have been around for thousands of years, in all cultures almost," said Vinterberg.
The director served his cast booze during rehearsals, and they watched Russian YouTube videos together to observe episodes of extreme inebriation.
"We needed to see these characters being in the zone," he recalled. "It wasn't like they were very drunk, actually, but there was alcohol."
On set, however, everyone was sober, Vinterberg said -- "they had to act, basically, which I think they did well."
Much as the production of "Another Round" is a story of contrasts -- tragedy and camaraderie, humor and philosophy -- the fates of the teachers diverge when the temptation of booze takes hold to varying degrees with each of them.
But the movie itself deliberately "did not want to moralize" or "make an advertisement for alcohol," said Vinterberg.
"Very importantly, I did not want to have a message."