A coming of age story set in 1970’s Copenhagen, The Commune is a glimpse into a more flexible and emotionally experimental time and place.
The story is loosely drawn from Director Thomas Vinterberg’s own life growing up in a similar collective house.
Erik is an architecture professor who inherited a beautiful house from his father and looks forward to selling it and using the money to relieve his tight financial situation but his wife Anna, a local TV news announcer, talks him into turning the huge old house into a communal living space for their family and friends and newcomers. They hold interviews for potential housemates including a man named Allon who seems strong and solid but cries whenever criticized. Erik bullies him about his finances and the rest of the collective force a vote to include Allon, which a shamed and remorseful Erik must go along with.
Once the crew is assembled they celebrate in the manner of naked middle aged drunk Danes cavorting in the North Sea. Who am I to judge?
Anna finds the house full of disparate personalities exciting and stimulating. Erik feels less comfortable and less significant in the collective living arrangement and when an opportunity presents, he begins an affair with one of his students, Emma. Initially this does not seem to be the furtive scandal it would be here and now, rather more acceptable in context. This group of Danes is open about being monoga-mish and about sex in general.
The housemate/family group organizes around house rules and meetings, an emotional patchwork of chaotic influences, everyone seems open and flexible about it all. The group has an unselfconscious dynamic of sharing conversation with an emotional comfort and candor alien to most Americans now or in the 70’s.
When Erik admits his infidelity to Anna she is concerned not so much that he was fucking around but rather that it was serious enough that he felt the need to tell her. In fact he didn’t feel particularly compelled to tell her until he got busted in media res with Emma by his 14 year old daughter Freja.
“The housemates become a Greek chorus of witnesses to the Anna, Erik, and Emma show…”
Erik decides his affair with Emma is true love and and he must leave the house. Anna suggests he bring Emma to live there and they decide to give that a try. Emma is beautiful and younger than most of them and generates enormous interest. Non-hilarity ensues.
Anna tries to roll with it and be friendly and hip about Emma, but eventually admits she’s feeling abandoned, enraged and embarrassed. There are meltdowns. Erik responds from his insecurity and dishes out some old school misogyny. The housemates become a greek chorus of witnesses to the Anna, Erik, and Emma show.
There does seem to be a willingness on the part of people to stay in very awkward situations one would think the natural reaction would be to flee. They sit with the discomfort of strong emotion feeling no need to act.
Because it’s Denmark the different period setting doesn’t come across particularly well. If not for a few identifiable 70’s pop songs it could be happening now. This film is reminiscent of The Big Chill but with a Scandinavian cool missing from the American South.
“The group has an unselfconscious dynamic of sharing conversation, an emotional comfort and candor alien to most Americans…”
The strongest and most nuanced performance is Trine Dyrholm as Anna, who gives us a moment in the life of a woman on the cusp of menopause who wants to stretch herself and experience new things but who pays a price for those adventures. Dyrholm solidly sells us on Anna’s delight and angst as the tale unfurls.
In the end it’s through young Freja’s eyes we see this world as she comes into her own as a woman, at one point having sex with her boyfriend with her mother’s newscast playing on the television. Freja watches the train wrecks happening around her as she stands on the battlefield of adults knowing, perhaps fearing, that soon she’ll be one of them.
The Commune (2017) Directed by Thomas Vinterberg. Written by Thomas Vinterberg, Tobias Lindholm. Starring Fares Fares, Ulrich Thomsen, Trine Dyrholm, Helene Reingaard Neumann.
8 out of 10