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The Commune: Vinterberg moves from nuclear family to communal living

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- BERLIN 2016: The Danish director is back in the Berlinale competition with a rather uncomfortable film focusing on an unconventional form of household

Review

Danish auteur Thomas Vinterberg returns to the Berlinale competition after 2010's Submarino [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Thomas Vinterberg
film profile
]
with The Commune [+see also:
trailer
film focus
interview: Thomas Vinterberg
film profile
]
, a new film exploring family issues, but this time around, it is set in the unconventional form of household alluded to in the title. However, a commune was not that unusual in the mid-1970s, when the film takes place, and the director himself spent a crucial chunk of his period of growing up – from age seven to 19 – in such a setting. 

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Erik (Ulrich Thomsen, most recently seen in Summer of '92 [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
), an architecture professor, inherits a large house from his late father. At first he wants to sell it, but his wife Anna (Trine Dyrholm, recently well known for A Royal Affair [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Mikkel Boe Følsgaard
interview: Nikolaj Arcel
film profile
]
), a popular TV presenter, would like to try out something new. “I'm bored of only listening to your voice,” she tells him matter-of-factly, and together with their 14-year-old daughter Freja (Martha Sofie Wallstrøm Hansen), they invite several people to come and live with them.

These include their old friend Ole (Lars Ranthe, who worked with Vinterberg on The Hunt [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Thomas Vinterberg
interview: Thomas Vinterberg
film profile
]
), promiscuous hippie Mona (Julie Agnete Vang, seen last year in Rosita [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
), immigrant Allon (Fares Fares, who broke out in Jalla! Jalla! and appeared recently in The Absent One [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
), and a couple consisting of Steffen (Magnus Millang) and Ditte (Anne Gry Henningsen), with a six-year-old son who has a heart defect and is expected to die before he is nine. 

They set the house rules, according to which everything is decided by a vote at morning meetings. These decisions range from who is buying beer to accepting potential new members, and this seems to work fine most of the time. But when Erik falls for his student Emma (Helene Reingaard Neumann, Vinterberg's spouse, who also starred in Submarino), a younger and prettier version of his wife, the housemates let the couple decide. Anna says, “Let's try,” without showing much resistance to the idea. After all, she was the one who suggested a new living arrangement, but it is not hard to tell that she is starting to regret it.

In his earlier films, especially his breakout Dogme 95 work The Celebration (which also featured Thomsen and Dyrholm) and Submarino, Vinterberg showed how the nuclear family can be a living hell, and here it is also this part of the commune where problems arise. However open-minded the couples in the 1960s and 1970s tried to be, jealousy and possessiveness cannot really be erased from human nature – especially if you “try something new” after a decade and a half of exclusively living together, with a child added to the equation. Of course, it is Freja, probably the most interesting character in the film, who suffers the most, and one cannot but think of Erik and Anna as insensitive, selfish bastards.

Despite some humour, The Commune makes for an uncomfortable viewing experience, but then again, Vinterberg's best films were never intended to pamper the audience. The script, adapted from the director's stage play together with Tobias Lindholm (their third collaboration, after Submarino and The Hunt), features a couple of squirm-inducing scenes, which are actually intensified by the perfectly recreated period setting, shot in slightly bleached colours by Jesper Tøffner. The soundtrack includes several pop songs from the era, the most effective being Elton John's “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”. 

Co-produced by Denmark's Zentropa Entertainments and Toolbox Film, and Holland's Topkapi Films, The Commune is handled internationally by TrustNordisk

photogallery

international title: The Commune
original title: Kollektivet
country: Denmark, Sweden, Netherlands
sales agent: TrustNordisk
year: 2016
directed by: Thomas Vinterberg
screenplay: Thomas Vinterberg, Tobias Lindholm
cast: Trine Dyrholm, Ulrich Thomsen, Helene Reingaard Neumann, Martha Sofie Wallstrøm Hansen

main awards/selection

Berlinale 2016
Competition - Silver Bear for Best Actress
Luxembourg City Film Festival 2016 
Toronto International Film Festival 2016 
Arras Film Festival 2016 
Les Arcs International Film Festival 2016 
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