The time is the late nineteen-seventies, and the hippy dream of ten years before refuses to die, at least in some quarters. For husband and wife Erik (Ulrich Thomsen) and Anna (Trine Dyrholm), with their teenage daughter Freja (Martha Sofie Wallstrom), they have an opportunity to make a change in their lifestyle when Erik's father dies and leaves him his large town house in Denmark. At first he wants to sell it at a large profit, but Anna persuades him to keep it, reasoning she can think of a way they can afford to live in it: how about a commune? Thus, they spend the next few days auditioning prospective dwellers to stay with them...
Director Thomas Vinterberg had plenty of experience of this sort of lifestyle, for he was brought up in a commune during the seventies himself, into the eighties in fact, so this adaptation of his own play (cowritten with his fellow Danish director Tobias Lindholm, who had collaborated with him on his international hit The Hunt) may have been more autobiographical than much of his output. It was also a fact that the relationship between the central couple mirrored his first marriage, and the new relationship for Erik with one of his architecture students, Emma (Helene Reingaard Neumann) was also inspired by the affair that broke up that self-same marriage.
When you knew the actress playing the woman who Erik falls for was also the person Vinterberg fell for, the accusations of self-indulgence were difficult to avoid, and at some points you could be forgiven for wishing he had simply made a documentary if he was that intent on raking over the coals of his personal experiences. Indeed, there was a problem with crafting The Commune away from the personal, in that fellow Scandinavian Lukas Moodysson had already made Together in 2000, which told a very similar tale of group living in the seventies, but was an altogether more sympathetic watch in the way it treated its characters, unlike the testiness here.
Perhaps that's too harsh, as Vinterberg did appear to like these folk, it was just that Moodysson's huge reserves of empathy and understanding for his difficult characters were beyond what he conjured up, mostly because he took a very dim view of Erik's philandering. Actually, given the title you might anticipate a bunch of human interest tales all strung together, but it played more as a focus on Erik and Anna, making the name something of a misnomer when communal living was merely intermittently settled on for plot. In the main, everyone had to march to the whims of Erik and Anna, and what could have been more inclusive lapsed very quickly into the kind of relationship drama with humorous asides any Euro director worth their salt could helm in their sleep.
Fortunately, there was an excellent cast here, and they made this worth watching since they were able to inhabit their roles in ways that avoided the anachronistic and embraced the flaws that all of us hold. The fact that they have decided to live together also means that they support each other, and when Anna begins to have a breakdown thanks to her marriage going over a cliff (with a scene at her place of work as a newsreader particularly angst-inducing) they all do their best to make what they can of a bad situation. Meanwhile Freja's awareness of her father's new girlfriend leads her to grow up far too fast, in scenes that will make parents cringe, but then cringing appeared to be the point of making this. It could have been patronising, and there was a note of tragedy that was far too forced a note to end on (just about), but overall if you appreciated well-sketched and humane readings of a bunch of era-specific but nonetheless understandable people, well, you would still be better off with Together, but The Commune was perfectly fine. Music by Fons Merkies.
Danish writer and director who graduated from short films to be one of the founders of the controversial Dogme 95 movement with his caustic family drama Festen. The next project of his to be seen internationally was the bizarre sci-fi romance It's All About Love. He followed this with gun drama Dear Wendy, another troubled family drama Submarino and provocative false accusation yarn The Hunt. The Commune was a semi-autobiographical tale of his upbringing. He won an Oscar for his grimly amusing drinking story Another Round. Vinterberg also directed the sleepy video for Blur's song "No Distance Left To Run".