Published on May 15th, 2017 | by Craig Silliphant0
The Commune (Kollektivet)
Thomas Vinterberg’s film, The Commune, is inspired by his own experiences. It’s not as deep as The Hunt, but it’s satisfiying on its own merits.
The social distress of the 1970s, especially the Vietnam War, is the backdrop to The Commune (Kollektivet), the latest film from Danish director Thomas Vinterberg. Vinterberg made The Celebration and one of the most intense and excellent dramas in recent years The Hunt (starring Mad Mikkelson). The Commune isn’t really about Vietnam, or any of the other societal issues that were front and centre at the time, though. It’s a film about people.
Erik and Anna have been together for 15 years. They have a teen daughter, Freja. When Erik inherits a house that Anna loves, he says they can’t afford it, and he doesn’t want to live such a big place — it pushes families apart because they have so much space to escape to. But then Anna drops a bomb — she tells Erik that she is growing stagnant in their relationship. She still loves Erik and he still makes her laugh, but she’s heard all his stories over and over. She yearns for excitement. She suggests they take on the big house, but invite people to live with them, in a commune.
Erik loves his wife and daughter, so he relents, and they start calling old friends and interviewing potential roommates. The movie follows the stories of those in the commune, especially Erik and Anna’s story (and without going too far into spoiler territory, let’s just say that their relationship becomes more complicated when Erik meets a pretty young woman from a class he teaches).
The Commune is significantly lighter in tone than The Hunt, but it’s an engaging film nonetheless. The film chooses to focus on a few main characters, leaving several of the housemates not fleshed out well, but there are a lot of people living in the house, so it’s probably a smart choice if they want to keep the proceedings reasonably breezy. And breezy they are — oddly enough, the movie feels more like an American film than a Danish one. It’s a little on the nose, sentimental, and even predictable at times. It leaves a few threads unpulled that could have made for good drama. At times I even thought Erik and Anna’s story becomes a bit of a relationship revenge porn. She break his heart with her commune idea, he meets someone else, she unravels.
However, while The Commune doesn’t feel like it’s trying to tell a deep human story of any kind, it is a great looking movie and an immensely likable watch. You move into the commune with these characters, you get to know them and love them, and you become part of their family. And the actors sell it the rest of the way; Trine Dyrholm, Martha Sofie Wallstrøm Hansen and Ulrich Thomson especially stand out as Anna, Freja, and Erik (though, they are also given the most to do). And Vinterberg’s real life wife, Helene Reingaard Neumann, is more than just a pretty face; she brings a warmth and sensitivity to the role that helps her character be more than just a mistress.
As a side note, the movie is based on a play of the same name that Vinterberg wrote about his own childhood growing up in a commune near Copenhagen. It’s no wonder that the movie captures the spirit of the extended family in such an easy manner.