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Thomas Vinterberg returns with "The Commune"

This review originally ran in September 2016 from the Toronto International Film Festival. With the film finally in theaters in select cities starting today (and available to rent on Amazon), we didn't want you to miss it...

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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Reader Comments (2)

I didn't like it very much - if you wanna see a great movie set in a commune see Lukas Moodysson's Tillsammans. Now there's a great movie.

But I absolutely fell in love with Martha Sofie Wallstrøm Hansen -
her face, her acting; really wonderful.
She got nominated for an Bodil, we Danes' version of an Oscar - very deserved.
Hope to see more of her in the future.

May 19, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterUlrich

You had my curiosity but now you have my attention on this one.

May 19, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMatt St.Clair

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