Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Cast: Ulrich Thomsen, Trine Dyrholm, Fares Fares
Running Time: 112 minutes
Release Date: July 29th
Drawing from his childhood experiences, at the age of seven with his family lived in a communal house, Danish director Thomas Vinterberg’s latest film The Commune takes place in Copenhagen around the mid-1970s. Erik (Ulrich Thomsen), a university teacher, inherits a large house in a posh area that had belonged to his father. Wanting to sell, he reluctantly goes along with the idea of his wife Anna (Trine Dyrholm), a newscaster, that not only should they and their teenaged daughter move into the house but also to make up the costs of living there they should invite some friends of theirs to move in and live in a type of commune. Initially everything goes swimmingly, literally they immediately go skinny dipping, but tensions start to rise once Erik begins an affair with one of his students, Emma (Helene Reingaard Neumann). Caught by his daughter, Erik confesses the affair to Anna, who finds herself torn between the open attitudes of communal living and her pain of the break up of her marriage, a conflict that only increases when she suggest that Emma should join the commune.
It should be noted that while it may be titled The Commune, the commune and its members pretty much play second fiddle to love triangle drama that is Anna/Erik/Emma. As a result the supporting characters are merely glorified extras, all given one-note character traits as an attempt to distinguish from each other; there is a bearded lefty who burn any possessions that he deems as useless, an immigrant who breaks down in tears in moments of confrontation, a hippy lady, and a couple with a son who has a heart condition. None of these roles are fleshed out enough to render any kind of impact, to the point that when a significant event occurs towards the end of the film, instead of pulling at the heartstrings as it intends to do, it merely comes across as a shallow piece of emotional manipulation.
The lack of interesting characters within the commune wouldn’t necessary be a problem if the primary focus of the film; the disillusion of Anna and Erik’s marriage was gripping in of itself. But even here, this part of lack credibility, mainly due to the part of Erik who, while well preformed by Thomsen, is such a wholly unlikable character; selfish, self involved and prone to such moments of rage that it actually makes him physically weak, it boggles the mind how two intelligent women like Anna and Emma could find themselves falling head over heals for him.
In fact what saves this film from being completely inconsequential is a fantastic central performance by Dyrholm, as someone who is struggling to accept that the life that she once knew has changed for good. While the performance does descend to shouting hysterics towards the end, the kind that screams, “acting awards please”, Dyrholm is at her best when she underplays, when a gesture and a glance speak more volumes than any lengthy monologue can.
For all of Dyrholm’s best efforts, and indeed the best efforts of the rest of the cast, the lack of development with its supporting characters and central premise makes The Commune one of Vinterberg’s weaker efforts. Lacking the bite and vigour of his best work, notably Festen and The Hunt, never feels like it has much to say. While Dyrholm manages to make it interesting enough, it itself is pretty mild and forgettable. Which is a real shame.