Year: 2017
Director(s): Thomas Vinterberg
Writer(s): Tobias Lindholm, Thomas Vinterberg
Region of Origin: Denmark

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Rating: Unrated
Digital, Color, 110 mins

Synopsis: A story about the clash between personal desires, solidarity and tolerance in a Danish commune in the 1970s. (Source)

The Commune explores a way of living that was hitting its peak in 70s Scandinavia, but the ideas and heart of what director Thomas Vinterberg has captured is timeless. At its core, the story is a microcosm of relationships, shifting political uncertainty and intellectual discourse, all instances which engage our primal need for connection and understanding in an ever evolving world. In fractured times such as now, Vinterberg’s latest is a reminder of how we can be so close to each other physically, yet remain oceans apart – it also feels like a celebration of who we can become when united, even if these moments of respite last for a few fleeting moments. Amidst an impeccable ensemble, star Trine Dyrholm steals the show with her emotional ferocity, contrasting the film’s extremes of devastation, but also its humor and warmth.

After Erik’s (Ulrich Thomsen) father passes away, he and his family face the possibility that they can no longer afford to keep his childhood home. Too large for one family, and too expensive to keep up, Erik’s wife Anna (Trine Dyrholm) suggests that they start a commune, inviting a few close friends to ease the burden while also giving the family a nice change of pace. Erik is initially in opposition of the idea, while Anna and the couple’s daughter Freja (Martha Sofie Wallstrøm Hansen) push for the adventure. Soon, a collective of misfit friends has been assembled, and the house is a bustling hub of possibility. While everything is perfect within, strain begins to wear on Erik and Anna, who each deal with growing pains in very different ways.

Like the rowdy, but endearing bunch who inhabit the commune’s walls, Vinterberg’s film is a lot of things at once, a story of extremes that feels spontaneous but also poignant. Since home is where we lay our head, Vinterberg and script writer Tobias Lindholm question they types of people we are when within the comforts of our home, and when out in the world. It turns out the truth may lie somewhere in the middle, and the struggle to reconcile the two may become too much to bear. This strain manifests itself to each person in ways that affect more than just the ones we love, and its this macro focus that the film hones in on. With the film touching upon so much, Vinterberg’s command of tone is commendable, staging everything from zippy, democratic house meetings, awkward dinner gatherings with damning angst and candid moments of bliss in between. By capturing heartache and love, sometimes both at the same time, Vinterberg focuses on the friendships that help to navigate the most difficult yet memorable times of our lives.

Vinterberg has assembled an ensemble that is as diverse as his fascinating social themes, but a handful of standouts deserve some praise. Trine Dyrholm is the film’s heart and soul, and as Anna, she turns in the its weightiest moments. There’s a smart transformation that happens, with Anna assured and headstrong when things start out, only to have her foundations rocked and challenged in ways that feel genuine. This is a true powerhouse performance, and one that ties us into the film, both emotionally and intellectually. While Anna’s story feels more self contained, Erik finds himself through the group, with Ulrich Thomsen shifting an an opposite direction than his co-star. Thomsen plays most of the film in a very understated way, and there’s a lot of torment that you can feel just from a stray glance. Helene Reingaard Neumann plays Emma, a student of Erik who’s life eventually meets up with the commune – she has a pretty difficult role, but brings an outsider’s honesty to everything, helping us to gain perspective and continually see everything fresh. Even with a more limited role, Martha Sofie Wallstrøm Hansen’s Freja gives the film its coming of age slant, exploring her boundaries while her parents break out of theirs.

Even as a period piece that captures a tumultuous time, The Commune is a smart reflection of our search for identity and belonging – and that the world’s constant burden of flux will always be something that can be handled with the help of each other. What Vinterberg showcases beautifully, is that a state of social or communal perfection doesn’t exist, but the journey to get there is punctuated by brilliant highs and lows – and that’s okay.

SG