Oscar History

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« Box Office: John, Paul, Ringo, George... and Sully | Main | What the hell did I just watch? A festival quartet »

TIFF: Thomas Vinterberg returns with "The Commune"

Nathaniel R from the Toronto International Film Festival

Thomas Vinterberg first came to fame with the Dogme 95 masterpiece The Celebration (1998) which was an international success reaping Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations for Foreign Film. Oscar famously snubbed it during their long stretch of controversial years in the 90s and 00s where they regularly ignored major critical darlings eventually prompting reforms to the selection process in the late Aughts. Vinterberg was eventually nominated with another international success The Hunt (2012) and after his English language sleeper success Far From the Madding Crowd (2015) it's safe to say he's on quite a roll currently. 

For years people had suggested to Vinterberg that he make a film about commune life since he had grown up in one as a child in the 70s...

The topic remains a source of fascination and a time capsule and a strangely untapped one outside of cautionary tales or creepy religious sect movies. The Commune, a picture that he first developed as a stage play is the wonderful result. The new film reunites two of The Celebration's stars: Trine Dyrholm and Ulrich Thomsen as a married couple Anna and Erik. Anna has grown bored with their small world as a married couple with a teenage daughter Freya (Martha Sofie Wallstrøm Hansen, wonderfully expressive in her film debut) and suggests they start a commune. Erik reluctantly agrees and soon the movie and their house explodes with noise and characters and parties and skinnydipping as the commune forms.

What follows is a warm and appropriately manic movie about community, sexuality, communal child rearing (or child-ignoring as the case may be), and the friction that will always crop up when idealism meets reality. The movie eventually succumbs to a dark dramatic undertow, an accurate and thus not-too-neat parallel to the worldwide loss of innocence in the 1970s; Anna's job as a newscaster rather smartly pulls in real world trauma without bogging the movie down as a historical piece.  Erik and Anna's marriage sours when Erik begins an affair with Emma (Thomas Vinterberg's wife, the actress Helene Reingard Neumann) further giving these two reliably strong Danish stars rich characters to tear into rather brilliantly; Dyrholm, who helped develop her character with Vinterberg, won Best Actress at the Berlinale earlier this year.  

Though the subject arguably remains too large for a single movie the best recommendation I can offer is that I missed this Kollektivet and its vivid characters (some admittedly underexplored) when it ended. Only a director as sharp about family and community dynamics and as Scandinavian as Vinterberg could have made this with such a refreshing lack of judgement, frankness about sexuality, and sympathy towards the beautifully idealistic insanity of communal living which is too often depicted with scorn and without any recognizably human nuance. B+

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