Thomas Vinterberg, dir and co-script w/Tobias Lindholm
Starring: Trine Dyrholm (Anna), Ulrich Thomsen (Erik), Helene Reingaard Neumann (Emma), Martha Sofie Wallstrom Hansen (Freja), Julie Agnete Vang (Mona), Sebastian Gronnegard Milbrat (Vlads), Magnus Milang (Steffen), Fares Fares (Allon)
When I heard that Danish director Thomas Vinterberg was making a film called The Commune, I was filled with great anticipation. The director of The Hunt, The Celebration and Far From the Madding Crowd had lived in a commune from the time he was seven until he was 19. A youth in the ‘70s and early ‘80s in Copenhagen, Vinterberg can still recall “a time filled with golden memories and absurd moments…The group suppers that took place every Thursday to Sunday usually evolved into overwhelming and sometimes catastrophic dinner parties. The notion of the ‘house meeting’ was the supreme authority – a democratic meeting where house members would share from the heart and discuss any issues they cared to.”
As someone somewhat older than Vinterberg, I remember shorter spells of communal life with great fondness. It was, indeed, absurd—and life in a group home could be filled with humour, passion, romance, despair and way too much drama. Not to mention trying to get your housemates to remember to wash the dishes—even if it was their time to do them.
Now that The Commune is being released in Canada, I can admit that I like the film a lot but am also massively disappointed. Though the film starts well with star TV news anchor Anna (Trine Dyrholm) convincing her architect husband Erik to keep the huge house he has inherited from his father and turn it into a commune, the plot shifts fairly quickly. Erik (Ulrich Thomsen) meets and falls in love with a beautiful young architecture student, Emma (Helene Reingaard Neumann), and the story moves into a typical melodrama, though admittedly played out in communal circumstances.
The best scene is when Emma arrives at a dinner only to discover that the group is deciding whether she can be part of the house or not. With Anna clearly uncomfortable about the set-up—she thought she had told Erik that Emma might stay unofficially for a while—events turn quite dramatic.
For most of the film, apart from an early effervescent set of scenes, when each member auditions to join the house, the communal situation and its eccentric participants simply provide a background to the growing dramatic triangle of Anna-Erik-Emma and how their love lives are playing out.
The Commune does feature an extraordinary performance by Trine Dyrholm, who plays Anna, a woman whose life completely unravels over the course of the film. If Dyrholm, a multiple awarding winning Danish actress were British, we would all know her name. She’s been compelling in all the films I’ve seen her—as the estranged wife in the Oscar-nominated In A Better World; opposite Pierce Brosnan in the English language romance Love is All You Need; as the cruel dowager queen in A Royal Affair; and even further back as the supportive Pia, who accompanies the truth-telling Christian away from Denmark in Vinterberg’s masterpiece The Celebration. Here, she draws you into the tragedy of Anna’s life, as she nearly goes mad trying to keep her life together while losing her husband. Dyrholm won the Best Actress award at last year’s Berlin Film Festival for her portrayal as Anna.
The Commune isn’t the picture I hoped it would be but it certainly delivers a powerful punch. As always with Vinterberg—and Dyrholm—there’s much to watch that’s worthwhile in this film.
Written by Marc Glassman
Adjunct Professor, Ryerson University
Director, Pages UnBound: the festival and series
Editor, POV Magazine
Editor, Montage Magazine
Film Critic, The New Classical FM
Film programmer, Planet in Focus
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