Film Review: ‘The Commune’ Depicts an Imperfect 1970s Bohemia


In his new film “The Commune“, Thomas Vinterberg directs Trine Dyrholm in an award-winning role that should delight fans of this Danish thespian. Dyrholm plays Anna, a dutiful wife and well-known TV news reporter, who lives with her architect/professor husband Erik (Ulrich Thomsen) and daughter Freya (Martha Sofie Wallstrøm Hansen). They live in a large house inherited from Erik’s late father, enjoying the spacious luxury that entails. However, when the bills begin to pile up and her husband’s demeanour becomes increasingly gloomy (due to frustrations at work), Anna demands a change. But as the saying goes, be careful what you wish for.

The solution Anna comes up with is communal living, a growing trend in their 1970s Danish society. Erik is reluctant at first, preferring to sell the house and move out. But soon enough, the couple is interviewing potential housemates of various backgrounds and personalities. Eventually narrowing down the options, the gang quickly becomes cozy with each other. Before long they are cheerfully breaking bread around the dinner table and skinny dipping in the nearby lake. But the idyllic facade soon fades, as personal flaws threaten to disrupt this unorthodox family. And Anna learns the hard way that the bohemian lifestyle isn’t for everyone.

The troubles to come center around an infidelity affecting Anna and Erik, which Vinterberg (co-writer with Tobias Lindholm) foreshadows early in the narrative. In typical form, he clearly establishes the various personas from the outset. In fact, he does this almost too well, which hampers the tension and surprises intended by subsequent plot developments. Indeed, it’s not rocket science to understand that the irritable, pompous Erik would be ill-suited for this living arrangement.

Thankfully, as the narrative progresses, Vinterberg also showcases his knack for capturing the complexities of human psychology and morality. Where some scenes seem to call for obvious histrionics, he instead goes for nuance, navigating the tricky terrain of love and commitment. In that regard, Anna’s gradual unraveling – and Dyrholm’s perfectly measured performance – is the film’s most inspired element.

Unfortunately, the film shows little interest in the ensemble outside of the central family trio. Aside from the supporting characters’ individual quirks (a boy with a terminal heart condition, an unusually sensitive man, a sexually promiscuous young woman), we learn little of their personal lives. And while Vinterberg’s mature, realist approach is commendable, the cultural atmosphere and unique characters beg for something more adventurous. The 1970s were known for its counterculture of women’s liberation and free thinkers. It’s therefore a slight disappointment that “The Commune” chooses to focus on something as conservative and conventional as a troubled marriage.

“The Commune” is now playing in select theaters.

GRADE: (★★★)