Release Date: May 19, 2017 (VOD)
Director: Thomas Vinterberg
MPAA Rating: NR
Runtime: 111 minutes
Thomas Vinterberg’s latest, The Commune (or Kollektivet), both feels out of place and perfectly placed in his filmography. Set in the 1970s, a Danish couple, Erik (Ulrich Thomsen) and Anna (Trine Dyrholm), must make a decision to either sell Erik’s giant childhood home or, in true 70s fashion, start a commune in the house. One might assume that the film would dive deep into the complexities of communal living, but Vinterberg never really leaves Erik and Anna’s relationship as the primary source of drama.
That’s not to say that the other members of the commune aren’t interesting. Between an immigrant who’s always between jobs, a couple and their child with a heart condition and a woman who takes pride in her promiscuity, The Commune has plenty of comedy to offer. Unfortunately, none of these characters are developed enough to have a substantial impact on the narrative.
That’s also not to say that Erik and Anna’s relationship isn’t enough fodder for a compelling film. Following the collection of the commune, Erik meets a young woman, Emma (Helene Reingaard Neumann), in his university class and begins an affair. Soon enough, Erik’s daughter Freja (Martha Sofie Wallstrøm Hansen) discovers the affair, bringing the issue to the attention of both Anna and the commune. Anna tries to go along with the new state of affairs for a while, but eventually the stress is too much.
The one thing I desperately want to know about this film is if Vinterberg was thinking about Agnes Varda’s Le Bonheur during production. The casting of Trine Dyrholm and Helene Reingaard Neumann as foils extenuates the two women’s similarities. They are both beautiful, blonde women with intelligence and eloquence, and Erik’s affair really feels like he’s trading in for the younger version of his wife.
In Varda’s film, this is the basic plot, but because the husband is the subject, neither of the wives really get to tell their stories; the film is a metaphor rather than a character piece. Here, Erik’s narrative is sidelined midway through the film so that Anna and Emma get to tell their stories. Vinterberg puts them together in scenes and conversations so that, even while Anna becomes the central character, Emma is not the villain.
All of this makes the film an odd, yet fitting, addition to Vinterberg’s oeuvre. It has more pure comedy than many of his other films, but the same attention to emotional realism found in Festen, The Hunt and Far From the Madding Crowd. Erik’s anger and Anna’s sadness are captured with more empathy than most films would allow.
The only complaint I have is that the commune aspect of the film feels superfluous to the main narrative. You could tell Anna and Erik’s story without the commune, and it wouldn’t be radically different. The Commune probably would have succeeded more as a 6-to-8-episode miniseries so each of the characters had a chance to breathe properly. However, The Commune is still worth watching and is one of the best films of 2017 so far.