Film Review: THE COMMUNE (Denmark/Sweden/Netherlands 2016) ****

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the_communeA story about the clash between personal desires, solidarity and tolerance in a Danish commune in the 1970s.

Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Writers: Tobias Lindholm, Thomas Vinterberg
Stars: Ulrich Thomsen, Fares Fares, Trine Dyrholm

Review by Gilbert Seah

The latest from Thomas Vinterberg (CELEBRATION, THE HUNT) details what happens in a commune. Communes were popular in the 70’s in Denmark, also the time when the film is set. Vintergberg does not judge the workability of a commune environment but shows both sides of its workings – both good and bad.

Vinterberg’s film is a detailed study of the start (and end?) of a commune. He begins with a couple’s rationale on starting their commune. It all happens when Erik’s father passes away. The couple must decide what to do with the huge house that Erik grew up in, as it’s too expensive for them to occupy on their own. So, they decide to form a commune. They believe a commune will solve the problem of money and being able to live at a large residence close to sailing and the sea while living with friends. Anna, the wife also desires change. The question then is whether the couple is ready with problems that may arise. This is what the film examines. It is a good observation, too, that people seldom look at the possible problems when they get too excited on a new venture.

The first 30 minute of the film is up-lifting. The couple decide on the commune, interview the other co-communers. They sign the papers, move in, and frolic naked, drink beer, drink and be merry. All this is demonstrated through the downward spiral of a couple Anna (Trine Dyrholm, who won Best Actress at this year’s Berlinale for her performance and is the best thing about the movie) and her husband, Erik (Ulrich Thomsen). Though the problems that ensure are predictable – jealousies; some that do less work than others; untidy habits – the events that occur are still well conceived and well executed.

The film also works on different levels. It is also a family drama that concentrates on the couple as well as a psychological study on human behaviour. The film gets interesting when members of the commune sit down for their annual meeting. Each member is asked “How are you?” Mona is accused of too much traffic in and out of the house (she is seeing too many men) while Allon is crying after being accused of not paying his deposit.

Every scene in the film is also ripe for analysis on behaviour. One scene in which Erik interviews Allon as a possible candidate for living in the house illustrates the interaction of two different characters with intriguing results. Another is Erik’s humiliation of Jesper, one of his students. The reason of his doing so forms a good topic for discussion. Yet another is when Erik’s daughter catches her father cheating on the mother.

Compared to other Vinterberg films like CELEBRATION, the images are crystal clear and there is much less hand held camera used. When the actors are seated, the camera is mounted and when the actors are walking or on the move, it is hand held camera (fortunately held quite steady without noticeable jittery movements). THE COMMUNE is Vinterberg’s most emotional film.

The main message of commune living would be that it works if one works at making it work. An insightful and absorbing film!


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