VOD film review: The Commune
Matthew Turner | On 29, Jul 2016
Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Cast: Trine Dyrholm, Ulrich Thomsen
Watch The Commune online in the UK: MUBI UK / Curzon Home Cinema / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play
No stranger to fractious family dynamics, after his acclaimed 1998 debut Festen, Danish writer-director Thomas Vinterberg turns to his own unconventional upbringing for his latest film, The Commune. Assembling key collaborators from previous projects and drawing on both his childhood experiences and his own stage play, Kollektivet (the film’s Danish title), Vinterberg delivers a compelling and emotional comedy-drama that would make a great companion piece with Together (2000), the much-loved Swedish commune-set comedy from Vinterberg’s contemporary, Lukas Moodysson.
Set in 1975 Copenhagen, the film stars Trine Dyrholm and Ulrich Thomsen (both Festen veterans) as TV news anchor Anna and her university lecturer husband, Erik, who inherit a large house on the outskirts of the city after a death in Erik’s family. Together with their 14 year old daughter, Freja (Martha Sofie Wallstrom Hansen), the pair move in, whereupon Anna persuades Erik to turn the house into a communal residence and invites several friends and strangers to move in with them.
Operating on a strict rota of daily breakfast-table meetings and weekly how-are-you-feeling personal audits, the commune gets off to a surprisingly successful start. However, things take a turn for the worse, when Erik begins an affair with 24 year old student Emma (Helene Reingaard Neumann) and Anna decides that the best thing to do would be to invite Emma to join the commune.
Dryholm is terrific as a woman trying to reconcile her own progressive idealism with the encroaching breakdown of her marriage – indeed, there’s the suggestion that she proposes the commune idea in the first place purely because she’s bored of only having Erik around. Thomsen is equally good, somehow managing to keep Erik sympathetic, despite his obviously damaging actions – it helps that he has distinct chemistry with both Dyrholm and Neumann.
The rest of the cast offer colourful comic support, particularly Lars Ranthe as Ole, the commune’s alpha male, who gleefully burns anything left lying around on the floor, and Fares Fares (The Keeper of Lost Causes) as heavily-bearded Allon, who keeps bursting into tears. Similarly, Martha Sofie Wallstrom Hansen makes a strong impression as Freja, whose burgeoning sexual relationship with a neighbourhood boy forms the film’s only other real subplot.
However, after a certain point, it becomes clear that the promising commune set-up actually serves more of a background function, as the script becomes more and more focussed on the central story of Anna and Erik’s marriage (with the suggestion that they’ve taken their eye off the ball as far as their parental responsibilities are concerned). This decision heightens the emotional connection to the main story, but it’s also frustrating because potentially promising story elements fail to surface – for example, the men in the group are nervous about asking one of the women to join the commune, because of her reputation for being something of a control freak, but we never see any evidence of this.
If Vinterberg’s script (co-written with Tobias Lindholm) falls down on fleshing out the supporting cast, his fluid direction compensates admirably, particularly in some impressive tonal shifts, veering from tears and emotional tension to big laughs and back again, often in the same scene. Indeed, in other hands, a certain scene would descend into melodrama, but Vinterberg’s assured control of the material prevents that from happening.
Ultimately, this is a powerfully emotional portrait of a disintegrating marriage, heightened by compelling characters and an intriguing setting that exerts a fascinating pull on the central narrative.
The Commune is available on MUBI UK, as part of a £9.99 monthly subscription.