As one of the most resourceful contemporary filmmakers – and behind the Dogme 95 movement – Danish auteur Thomas Vinterberg returns to home soil with his latest picture The Commune. Though set in the 1970s, this is far from the free sex and drug use environment you may have anticipated, instead offering a more naturalistic, domesticated set-up, featuring sensible adults with significant professions. While the director’s commitment to realism is, and always has been unwavering, in this case – perhaps more free sex and drug use would have made for a more compelling production.
Married couple Erik (Ulrich Thomsen) and Anna (Trine Dyrholm) seek something new in their life, and following a 25 year relationship, which has spawned their teenage daughter Freja (Martha Sofie Wallstrom Hansen), they decide to open up a commune, at the former home of Erik’s recently deceased father. Having collected a small group of friends, and some stranger, who had been interviewed for a space in the house, the notion of sharing is one that Erik takes a little too literally, and starts dating his student Emma (Helen Reingaard Neumann). Anna initially seems to be comfortable with his husband’s exploits, but as time progresses, her patience wears thin.
Though steeped in realism, there’s a surrealistic approach to the comedy, heightened to evoke laughter from the audience. However this approach backfires, for when the more emotionally charged sequences come into play, Vinterberg hasn’t quite earned the investment of the viewer, leaving the audience feeling rather disengaged. There is still a lot to admire about this film though, particularly in how the director explores a common fantasy people have: to live with/near all of your friends, seeing them every day. On this evidence, it’s actually a nightmarish ideal, and some intimacy is far more valuable than you may have given it credit for. There’s also a comment on modern society as we witness a generation that thrived in the notion of community, far away from the culture nowadays where students, and young professionals, house-share mostly for logistical, financial purposes, and have separate shelves on the fridge.
The primary positive in this instance is that of Dyrholm, who turns in a nuanced display, and one so empathetic that you relate to her, and while you question why she doesn’t just leave Erik, such is the personable nature of this fine actress, that you understand it’s never quite as easy at that. She’s the only character you do find yourself investing in, as it’s an ensemble piece that struggles to give each role a balanced, emotional arc. It’s just a shame when considering the wealth of talent behind the camera, for Vinterberg is working from a Tobias Lindholm screenplay, and after their remarkable collaboration on The Hunt, it’s difficult not to feel somewhat underwhelmed by this lacklustre feature.