2017, NR, 111 min. Directed by Thomas Vinterberg. Starring Trine Dyrholm, Ulrich Thomsen, Helene Reingaard Neumann, Martha Sofie Wallstrøm Hansen, Lars Ranthe, Fares Fares, Julie Agnete Vang, Magnus Millang, Anne Gry Henningsen, Sebastian Grønnegaard Milbrat.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., May 26, 2017
The naivete of theoretical ideas is often exposed when they’re put into actual practice. Theory may not accommodate the vagaries of human emotions and the consequences of unplanned events. What looks good on paper doesn’t always pan out when reality comes to call. These are some of the ideas explored in Thomas Vinterberg’s film The Commune, an ensemble piece from Denmark set amid the freewheeling social milieu of mid-Seventies Copenhagen.
Vinterberg, the award-winning director of the piercing drama The Celebration, the first feature made under the Dogme 95 Manifesto, explains in his new film’s press notes that between the ages of 7-19 he lived in a commune. Presumably, The Commune carries personal resonance for the filmmaker, who co-wrote the screenplay with his co-writer of The Hunt, Tobias Lindholm (A Hijacking). Vinterberg describes his years as a child living in a household of so many interesting and eccentric adults as “a time filled with golden memories and absurd moments.” Not unsurprisingly, The Commune doesn’t stint on the perspectives of the household’s two minor residents: 14-year-old Freja (Hansen, whose debut film announces a riveting new screen presence) and 6-year-old Vilads (Milbrat), who suffers from a heart condition.
As the movie opens, Erik (Thomsen) and his wife Anna (Dyrholm), parents of Freja, inherit the old family house where Erik grew up. An architecture professor, Erik wants to sell the house, believing it too big for nuclear-family life and too expensive to maintain. Anna, a TV news anchor, wants to open the house as a commune, freely telling Erik, whom she loves, that she would also like to converse with more people and share more experiences. “A fantastic house should be filled with fantastic people,” she declares, as she convinces Erik of the wisdom of the social experiment. They invite numerous friends to move in – the interview sessions and regular house meetings offer Vinterberg much opportunity to unleash his fastidiously observant camera eye. All goes swimmingly (quite literally, if you count the celebratory skinny dipping scene), until Emma (Neumann), a comely student of Erik’s, penetrates his aloofness. Honesty being highly valued at the commune, Erik shares the information of his new love with his wife, whereupon Anna surprises him by inviting Emma to move in. Soon the drama shifts to focus more on the travails of this ménage à trois than on the ups and downs of the commune. The group becomes more spectator than Greek chorus, and the film loses much of its focus.
Nevertheless, Trine Dyrholm delivers a powerful performance as Anna, a woman whose heart won’t align with her head, as does Ulrich Thomsen as the testy Erik. Both have been frequent collaborators of Vinterberg’s, as have been many of the diverse and eccentric actors playing members of the commune. Although there is much to satisfy viewers, it must be said that The Commune does not equal the standard for rapier acuity that Vinterberg set for himself in The Celebration. Still, this film won’t give you too much else to fuss about when it’s your turn to speak at the house meeting.
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The Commune, Thomas Vinterberg, Trine Dyrholm, Ulrich Thomsen, Helene Reingaard Neumann, Martha Sofie Wallstrøm Hansen, Lars Ranthe, Fares Fares, Julie Agnete Vang, Magnus Millang, Anne Gry Henningsen, Sebastian Grønnegaard Milbrat