The Commune
3.0Overall Score

The Commune – Movie Review

When Erik’s (Ulrich Thomsen) father dies and leaves him a large house in a suburb of Copenhagen, his wife Anna (Trine Dyrholm) quickly convinces him that they should move into the house. Gathering friends to move in with them, in order to make the house more affordable, quickly turns the house into a small commune, but when Erik begins an affair with the much younger Emma (Helene Reingaard Neumann), tensions arise in the shared space.

Based on director Thomas Vinterberg’s play of the same name – which in turn was inspired by Vinterberg’s early life in a commune – The Commune is less a film about sharing a house with friends and negotiating those relationships, and more about the dissolution of a marriage when home is not as private as it once was.

The cast is made up of Ulrich Thomsen, Fares Fares, Trine Dyrholm, Julie Agnete Vang, Helene Reingaard Neumann, Lars Ranthe and Martha Sofie Wallstrøm Hansen. Each of the cast do well with their roles, but it is Trine Dyrholm as Anna who really steals the show, with her tense, brittle and brave performance as a woman trying to live up to the ideals she spouts, when things come right to her front door.

Screenwriters Thomas Vinterberg and Tobias Lindholm try to exmine life in a home that is made up of chosen family and not just those related by blood, but the story quickly turns to familiar ground of martial strife. There is the added dimension of this break up playing out in a more public way than we have seen before, but once the dynamic of the commune is introduced in the film, it is obvious that something is going to happen to shatter this idyll and bring tension into the film. It’s just a shame that this is such a familiar trope.

 

As director, Thomas Vinterberg does well with the first act of the film, making the commune and its members seem warm and engaging, with their shared history evident, if not always explored on screen. It is as the film begins its descent into examining the breakdown of a marriage that it begins to falter, with the pacing often slowing to a crawl before speeding up again, and the storyline of Erik and Anna’s teenage daughter’s first love affair feeling tacked on for no apparent reason. There is plenty to admire in The Commune, however – not least the great soundtrack – it’s just a shame the film feels so very familiar.

In all, The Commune could have been a strong examination of relationships in close quarters, but instead looks at the end of a marriage; a scenario we have seen played out on screen many times before. The performances are strong, but these are let down by a familiar story and some messy pacing.

 Review by Brogen Hayes

Irish Release Date – July 29th 2016

Rating: 3/5

  • filmbuff2011

    Having tackled brooding Thomas Hardy adaptation Far From The Madding Crowd, Thomas Vinterberg returns home to Denmark for The Commune. Like his previous film, it’s about societal constraints and the thin line between acceptable / unacceptable behaviour in a small community.

    In 1970s Copenhagen, university lecturer Erik (Ulrich Thomsen), his TV newsreader wife Anna (Trine Dyrholm) and their teenage daughter Freja (Martha Sofie Wallstrøm Hansen) move into their new home: Erik’s childhood home, a mansion left behind by his late father. With too much space around, Erik proposes that they bring their friends to stay with them and fill up the house, to experiment with the idea of creating a commune. Their friends move in and everyone shares in the workload and expenses. There’s no boss in the house, but Erik comes across as a dominating personality nonetheless. He stirs things up though, when he has an illicit affair with student Emma (Helene Reingaard Neumann). Freja discovers this, forcing Erik to confront Anna with the truth. Surprisingly, she accepts his behaviour, rationalising it as a man’s choice to cheat. She proposes that Emma moves in, but after a while, this sends Anna over the edge…

    The Jean-Paul Sartre quote ‘hell is other people’ is particularly applicable to The Commune. For this is a film in which the main characters don’t really know themselves until their behaviour is judged by the other people living in the commune. Erik is something of a hothead, blowing up at minor character flaws in other people, while conveniently ignoring his own major ones. Anna comes across as sympathetic, but naive and far too tolerant of her husband. While communes can often be the subject of poking humour (e.g. Wanderlust), Vinterberg and his co-writer Tobias Lindholm are more concerned with the damage of immature, irresponsible behaviour by adults as perceived through the eyes of a teenager. The actions of her father prompt Freja to engage in her own risky behaviour – unknown to her navel-gazing parents.

    While it wobbles a bit in the mid-section, The Commune picks up in the third act, when things get really interesting. Dinner table scenes are fraught with tension, as Emma and Anna go at each other with barbed comments. What’s left unsaid is even more interesting. This is where the film really flies and becomes a commentary on societal standards, even within the confines of this homemade commune. Vinterberg is a great director of actors. Thomsen and Dyrholm make the most of these scenes, cranking up the mood and playing down the melodrama of the situation. The Commune may have a few false notes here and there, but it’s ultimately a very satisfying and intriguing drama about how people behave around each other. ****