The Commune

 

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An untypical work from Denmark’s Thomas Vinterberg, based on his own stage play.

 

The Commune

Ulrich Thomsen and Helene Reingaard Neumann 

 

Although the Danish director Thomas Vinterberg did a very good job on the recent remake of Far from the Madding Crowd (2014), the films that seem typical of him are his homegrown dramas such as Festen (The Celebration) (1998) and The Hunt (2012). On paper this new work might sound to be in the same mode as those: it tells a story set in the 1970s about a wife, the journalist Anna (Trine Dyrholm), who goes through agonies when her husband, Erik (Ulrich Thomsen), an architect who also teaches, falls for one of his students, the 24-year-old Emma (Helene Reingaard Neumann). Not long before that Anna had positively encouraged the idea of the couple and their teenage daughter living in a commune with a number of friends. Now, hoping that Erik's infatuation will pass, she is ready to be understanding and even to bring Emma into the commune - or so she thinks. But, in the event, awareness of Erik having sex nearby with his new love proves more than she can take after fifteen years of marriage.

 

If that sounds like a drama, then the further fact that before the narrative comes to a close one of the characters dies would appear to confirm it. But, in fact, the whole notion of living in a  commune is so much of its period, so close to cliché, that it is understandable that for much of the time The Commune should play as a kind of comedy being fully aware of the absurdities in the outlook and behaviour depicted. This extends from the discussion of house rules to obligatory nude bathing.

 

The blend of comedy and drama that ensues may strike some as smart but, despite all the main roles being well cast, I found that the approach offered only modest amusement while lessening the impact of the more serious aspects. Any work that seeks to balance these two elements needs to have persuasive characters. In fact, this film can claim to have them, but in Erik one has a totally self-centred figure and someone who is obnoxious. He may be believable but he is so repellant that it undermines any sympathy that we  might feel for Anna who, stupidly, seems to be still in love wth him. Meanwhile, both of them pay little attention to the fact that their 14-year-old daughter (Martha Sofie Wallstrøm Hansen) is indulging behind their backs in a sexual liaison with a boy only a little older. Vinterberg was born in 1969 and as a child knew life in a commune so to some extent he is revisiting his own past, but for viewers generally all the effort spent on this period piece was hardly justified. 

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Trine Dyrholm, Ulrich Thomsen, Helene Reingaard Neumann, Lars Ranthe, Fares Fares, Martha Sofie Wallstrøm Hansen, Magnus Millang, Anne Gry Henningsen, Julie Agnete Vang.


Dir Thomas Vinterberg, Pro Sisse Graum Jørgensen and Morten Kaufmann, Screenplay Thomas Vinterberg and Tobias Lindholm from the play Kollektivet by Thomas Vinterberg and Mogens Rukov, Ph Jesper Tøffner, Pro Des Niels Sejer, Ed Anne Österud and Janus Billeskov Jansen, Music Fins Merkies, Costumes Ellen Lens.


Zentropa Entertainments19/Toolbox Film/Film Väst/Topkapi Films-Curzon Artificial Eye.
112 mins. Denmark/Sweden/The Netherlands/Norway. 2015. Rel: 29 July 2016. Cert. 15
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