“You lose one another in a big house.” Prophetic words from the patriarch at the head of Danish director Thomas Vinterberg’s The Commune. In the wake of his father’s death, Erik (Ulrich Thomsen) inherits an enormous Copenhagen property and wants to cash in on the million kroner it’s worth. His bored wife, Anna (a tremendously restrained Trine Dyrholm), and adolescent daughter, Freya (Martha Sofie Wallstrøm Hansen) are in need of adventure and usher in a new chapter in lives that have become humdrum by inviting a gaggle of others to make home under their expansive roof. “I need to hear other people talk,” says Anna.
The post-1960s idealism of collective living does not prove to be all sunshine and roses for those involved. But as much as The Commune attempts to delight in a now antiquated harmonious existence – and benefits from superb period production, costume design and a great Danish folk soundtrack – it is more a tale of marital disintegration, adultery and ageism. A series of prospective housemate interviews are a total white wash as all who apply are accepted without little more than the raising of an eyebrow. What ensues finds itself somewhere between Cedric Klapisch’s L’Auberge Espagnole and a 1970s instalment of Big Brother. Erik, who frequently throws his toys out of the box when he doesn’t get his way, is left bewildered by the new circumstances and a conversation over a cigarette with Emma (Helene Reingaard Neumann) is enough to ignite the all-too-clichéd professor/student dangerous liaison.
There are moments of ill-advised and completely misplaced humour: Freja discovers Emma dressing in her parents’ bedroom post-coitus as her father awkwardly enters in his pants. The suggestion that this scene plays for laughs is totally off-key, negating the confusing devastation on a vulnerable girl at that most impressionable of ages. Her first crush and sexual encounter occurs away from completely disinterested parents and that she is latterly pitted as a bargaining chip between them is just crass. An example of considerate parenting, or indeed parenting of any kind, The Commune is not. Even in the smouldering embers of the era of free love and hippiedom the ease with which Erik is able to have his cake and eat it with such flagrant disregard for his wife of fifteen years does not ring true.
Anna, a highly successful TV news anchor, accepts her husband’s affair with inexplicable ease – encouragement even – but both she and the film loses the plot when her buxom young replacement moves in to live with them. Playing for some kind of emotional impact, the director’s inclusion of a congenital heart condition suffered by the youngest of their midst is laughably heavy-handed and for a film that takes place in a communal setting the wallpaper-thin development of all sub-characters means they amount to little more than decoration. There are a series of housemate votes during The Commune: Vinterberg’s previous film The Hunt was a magnificent, unquestionable ‘aye’, his latest a self-indulgent, unbelievable ‘nay’.
Matthew Anderson | @behind_theseens