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Film review: The Commune – social experiment takes back seat to love triangle

1970s-set film about a family who inherit a mansion and open its doors to relatives and strangers is less an ensemble comedy than a bitter relationship drama – and one that’s powerfully acted

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 September, 2016, 12:01pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 September, 2016, 12:01pm

3.5/5 stars

Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg (The Hunt, Festen) channels his early experiences of communal living in The Commune, although it’s perhaps his own divorce after 17 years and his subsequent marriage to a younger woman (Helene Reingaard Neumann, who plays a similar role in the film) that have most informed this bitter relationship drama initially disguised as a nostalgic, 1970s-set ensemble comedy.

Architecture lecturer Erik (Ulrich Thomsen) and television newswoman Anna (Trine Dyrholm) appear to be happily married when they inherit an overlarge mansion in Copenhagen with their 14-year-old daughter, Freja (Martha Sofie Wallstrom Hansen). But once Anna persuades Erik to open up the place to new housemates – ranging from mutual friends to random strangers – cracks predictably begin to show in the relationship.

Thomas Vinterberg on new film The Commune and his own communal childhood

Instead of expanding on the intricate workings of group dynamics, Vinterberg opts to put his focus squarely on the middle-aged couple, as Erik freely embarks on an affair with beautiful student Emma (Neumann), and Anna puts up a front of understanding and acceptance, and even graciously invites Emma to the commune, before breaking down in several heart-wrenching scenes that give this film its emotional core.

It’s a classic case of “be careful what you wish for”, accentuated by the socialist ideal of collective living and the relaxed atmosphere of free love. But while questions could be raised about Erik’s emotionally sadistic treatment of his wife (and the household’s acquiescence), there’s no doubt Dyrholm – named best actress at the 2016 Berlin Film Festival for her emotionally intense portrayal of Anna – owns the movie’s best moments.

The Commune opens on September 29

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