This isn’t the first time Thomas Vinterberg has explored the relationship between community and the individual. In his previous film to be made in the native tongue, The Hunt, the Danish director explored how doubt and discrimination could tear society apart. In contrast, Vinterberg’s latest film, The Commune – a dark and dreamy delight – reflects on how tolerance in the face of a testing truth can bring you closer together.
It’s a film as handsomely built as its eponymous haven: towering and triumphant. When we first arrive to take a tour, it’s in the company of architectural lecturer Erik (Ulrich Thomsen), his wife Anna (Trine Dyrholm), and their daughter Freja (Martha Sofie Wallstrøm Hansen). The house has been inherited from Erik’s father, and, in light of some possible financial troubles, he wants to sell it. Anna, however, wants them to move. And moreover, she wants to invite some of their closet friends to come and live with them, hoping that this fresh, free-spirited arrangement will help her and and her husband evade the boredom that has begun seeping into their marriage.Soon enough, the building is abuzz with tenants; there’s Ole (Lars Ranthe), a man with political beliefs that are as radical as his moustache; Ditte (Anne Gry Henningsen), Steffen (Magnus Millang) and their son Peter (Rasmus Lind Rubin), who intermittently insists he will not live past his ninth birthday due to a heart defect; needy ND teary Allon (Fares Fares); and beautiful bohemian Mona (Julie Agnete Vang).
Like a group of students moving in on Freshers’ Week, the atmosphere in the house is primarily one of ecstatic enthusiasm. Although shot on digital, Vinterberg and his DP Jesper Tøffner suffuse the 70s setting with wistful saturated hues and rich creamy colours that add a soothing air of warmth to the abode. Friendships are forged through group activities and flat meetings, the feverish favour continuing to expand as the group’s relationships cement.
Inevitably, the bubble soon bursts. Isolated by his wife’s newfound freedom, Erik finds comfort in the arms of one of his students, Emma (Helene Reingaard Neumann); a moment of weakness that soon develops into a love affair. Upon first finding out, Anna supresses her reaction, but as the situation progresses – Erik soon invites Emma to come and live with them – she starts finding it harder to stifle the sadness inside her.Vinterberg, writing from his own experiances and collaborating once more with Tobias Lindholm, pens a loose plot, but ensures he retains a tight grip on his characters. And he plays their emotions like Carl Nielsen played the violin. Despite the sense of community, The Commune is ultimately a tale of individual loneliness. Though it is initially Erik who seems segregated, Anna is the one who rapidly finds herself secluded from the group, her grief, so forcefully conveyed in Trine Dyrholm’s poignantly textured performance, intrinsically isolating her from the others, despite their continued support.
There’s a wealth of rich satire about love and marriage to be drawn from The Commune – the film would make a great companion piece to Östlund’s Force Majeure – but what swathes you is its honesty and humanity; Anna’s desperate attempts to have acceptance offering her the opportunity to develop a more caring and close-knit relationship with both her daughter and her friends. There are narrative missteps in the film’s occasional discarding of the extended ensemble – all of whom bring a magnetic magic when given the chance. They’re treated as cyphers, yet what radiates is their closeness; how important they are to Anna, and the audience.
Fundamentally, what Vinterberg has constructed within his Commune is a collective tale of kindred friendship. Even after the fireworks of Erik and Anna’s marriage have exploded, they try to maintain a calm that does right by both parties. There’s a domestic intimacy shared between these residents that transcends the bonds of friendship; they’re a family, they just happen to be one they picked for themselves.