Fresh off last year’s Far from the Madding Crowd, Danish director Thomas Vinterberg somewhat returns to his roots with The Commune.
This is a guy who, along with Lars von Trier, co-founded the Dogme 95 movement that aimed to simplify the rules of film production and take back creative control from movie studios. The Commune feels like it would fit right in at the peak of the movement in the late 90’s.
It has a simple premise: a small family, living in a house larger than they can manage, decides to start interviewing people to come and live with them in what will become a ‘commune’.
What begins as a light-hearted suggestion soon becomes a way of life, with numerous eccentric characters joining them. How the group interacts starts equally light-hearted, entertaining and hilarious, but as they become closer, literally forming one big family, we see emotions running high.
At the centre of it all are the original occupants; husband Erik and wife Anna, played by Ulrich Thomsen and Trine Dyrholm respectively, along with daughter Freja (Martha Hansen). We see early on that the couple isn’t entirely in sync; moving others into the house is originally Anna’s idea, while Erik instead desires to be closer to his wife, something that becomes more difficult when the house is full. They grow more distant, and the journey their respective characters go on over the course of the movie is fascinating in itself. Dyrholm deservedly won the Silver Bear for Best Actress at Berlin Film Festival for her performance as Anna, who gradually unravels as the film goes on.
The group dynamic is adeptly used to examine social issues; the unique living arrangement gradually highlighting both how easy it is to lose individuality and conversely how frustrating it can be to pursue personal desires in a setting where they may not be accepted. How much are people willing to put up with to accommodate others? How to convey brutal honesty when so many ears are listening? These are questions posed by Vinterberg, clearly intended to have a wider reach than the walls of the house in which they originate, and the film is an enjoyable ride in such experienced hands. You can often tell the cast is having as much fun as we are.
The Commune was considered (though ultimately not selected) for Danish submission to the Best Foreign Language category at the Oscars – the third time one of Vinterberg’s films has been in contention after Festen/ The Celebration (1998; also wasn’t nominated) and The Hunt (2012; made the final selection). Fans of the director or anyone looking to enjoy one of the more eccentric European movies of the year won’t be disappointed.
8 / 10