The Commune represents a kinder and gentler film by the standards of Danish director Thomas Vinterberg, which means it’s still pretty dour by most standards. It’s a comedy, at least at first (the same could be said of his The Celebration after all) before heading into darker areas. However the filmmaker’s keen sense of social observation certainly hasn’t dulled at all. The movie is vibrant and alive with wonderful performances, bold ideas, and a few dark turns for added spice. That’s just how the Danish do.
The film takes place in the 70s, when communal living was all the rage in Denmark. Celebration stars Ulrich Thomsen and Trine Dyrholm are reunited as a successful couple who are a bit wary of their lives. She’s a newscaster for whom the job has become dreary routine and he’s a professor who has grown tired of mentoring students with far more promising lives than his own. After inheriting the huge house Thomsen grew up in, the couple aren’t quite sure what to do since they can’t afford it on their own. So they form a commune and invite a few friends and a handful of strangers to join them in the old house and it does indeed invigorate their lives. Dyrholm grows to love her new social home, while Thomsen is inspired to try having an affair with one of his students. Obviously sparks follow.
The Commune is predictably a bit of a wandering character tapestry defined more by its sprawling cast than a tight narrative. But the performances are fantastic, especially from Trine Dyrholm, whose inevitable breakdown can be excruciating to watch. After darting around between stories and milking out some subtle character comedy, Vinterberg eventually settles into a movie about how radical lifestyle changes can’t conceal larger problems or change who we are. It doubles as both a critique of these specific characters and the 70s commune fad as a whole. Though that won’t be a tale to appeal to everyone, those who appreciate Vinterberg’s dark wit and cynically warm sense of humanity should appreciate seeing the filmmaker have a little fun. He’s rarely this playful, even though he’s rather good at it.