A story about the clash between personal desires vs. solidarity and tolerance in a Danish commune in the 70’s.
Danish cinema has been filling the gap for thought provoking adult drama recently, and ‘The Commune’, from ‘The Hunt (Jagten)’ and ‘Festen (The Celebration)’ director Thomas Vinterberg, is another film that meets this criteria. Taking place in the early 70s and focusing on a bohemian couple (Eric and Anna) who decide to start a commune, in an almost matter of fact way after Eric inherits his late father’s large family home. They carry out ‘interviews’, a whole host of friends and acquaintances move into their house, which is in turn transferred to joint ownership between all members of the commune. If this description makes the transition seem simple, it’s because it is – Vinterberg is not particularly interested in how others outwith the commune view the arrangement, but merely on the mechanics of this lifestyle choice and how it affects the characters lives.
The early stages of the film have a light and playful feel to them, echoing the happiness and enthusiasm that washes over Eric and Anna and the other members of the commune at the outset, before taking a darker turn in the second half of the film as reality starts to sink in and the downsides of this lifestyle start to become more prominent. The contrast is show superbly between the shots on the pier at the start and at the finish, reflecting the carefree attitude at the beginning and the experience of this lifestyle at the end. This darker turn coincides with Eric starting a secondary relationship with one of his students, Emma, starting off casually and with Anna’s acceptance before it gradually starts to reveal deeper rooted problems in Eric and Anna’s relationship. Like most of the film’s characters, Eric and Anna are so self-absorbed and steadfast in their decisions and approach to life that they fail to see trouble coming until it hits them right in the face. Trine Dyrholm, who plays Anna, is phenomenal in a layered performance that conveys a whole range of emotions as she struggles to deal with Eric’s behaviour, primarily in her internal conflict as to whether she has a right to feel aggrieved or not. After all, in the commune everything is shared and decisions are made at a group level, with little consideration given to individual wants and needs.
This review so far perhaps ignores the most important character in the narrative, and that’s partly by design, as she’s often kept in the background and limited to an afterthought in the minds of her parents. That person is Freya, Eric and Anna’s 14 year old daughter, who is suddenly thrust into this alternative way of living without any discussion, and she’s ultimately the person most affected by the actions of her parents and the commune as a whole. This is perfectly illustrated in a terrifically staged scene late on at the central table (Vinterberg of course is no stranger to a dinner table sequence) where Freya is ignored by the wider group as she tries to get her point across, shot in such a way to show how Eric and Anna have neglected to consider their daughter in their decisions. ‘The Commune’ improves as the film goes on as the narrative starts to explores the emotional depths of this alternative lifestyle and the impact on a group of people who walked into this environment without considering the negative aspects that can come with it.
‘The Commune’ is not Thomas Vinterberg’s most emotionally complex film, but this is an interesting, thought provoking film and it is a very worthwhile addition to his collection.
Directed By: Thomas Vinterberg
Starring: Trine Dyrholm, Ulrich Thomsen, Fares Fares, Julie Agnete Vang, Lars Ranthe, Helene Reingaard Neumann, Mads Reuther, Martha Sofie Wallstrøm Hansen, Magnus Millang and Anne Gry Henningsen