The whole free love aspect of the hippies sounds good in theory but there’s always one key obstacle impeding its chances at being successful: human nature. People get jealous and those divisions can ruin communal living spaces with lightning speed. The new film from Danish director Thomas Vinterberg, The Commune, looks at life in a quaint commune in the ‘70s as social upheaval escalates in the surrounding world. While pretty much always compelling, The Commune underserves its varied supporting characters and focuses almost exclusively on a marriage that disintegrates under the roof of the communal space.
Erik (Ulrich Thomsen) is a professor of architecture and he and his wife Anna (Trine Dyrholm), a television newscaster, have just inherited Erik’s childhood home from his recently deceased father. However, the costs of living in the home are greater than their means, leaving them with one recourse in order to retain the home – establish a commune. They move into the home with their daughter Freja (Martha Sofie Wallstrøm Hansen) and are soon joined by their friend Ole (Lars Ranthe). Before long they’re interviewing prospective tenants for their burgeoning commune. At first, life within the commune is idyllic, the residents forming a comradery between themselves. Things start to get complicated when Erik starts having an affair with his student Emma (Helene Reingaard Neumann). Erik confesses his infidelity to Anna after being discovered by Freja, and tensions rise when Emma moves in following a contentious vote. Meanwhile, there are other divisions emerging in the household over concerns about money and property. All of that takes a backseat to the emotional strain that Anna finds herself under as she’s forced to witness her husband finding a new love right before her eyes. It’s a situation that could very well undo the commune.
The central drama at the heart of The Commune is compelling and you can see it all beginning to unravel before the dominoes start to fall. Vinterberg and his co-writer Tobias Lindholm do a good job in establishing the defiance of social norms that allows this emotional breakdown to occur between Erik and Anna while at the same time allowing the audience to peer upon what Erik is attracted to in Emma. This takes an interesting turn in the disillusionment that befalls Freja as her family falls apart within its communal setting. The tension rises and culminates in a heartbreaking scene where Anna is all but entirely in the throes of a complete breakdown that could threaten her professional life, the only thing that seems to be going right for her.
While the central drama of The Commune is compelling, there are just too many loose ends with the supporting players that make up the commune’s residents. Vinterberg teases conflicts that are prime to emerge from the formed of shared living, but then they all fall by the wayside to the familial drama between Erik and Anna. This wouldn’t be so much of a problem if a big moment at the end didn’t hinge on these supporting characters, and the fact that it doesn’t have the emotional impact it intended is solely because these dynamics are undercooked.
The Commune has so much swirling around its mind and only settles in to fully explore one aspect. It’s so frustratingly close to brilliance but never coalesces into anything more than a strongly constructed familial drama, one that allows its supporting characters to fade in and out of the happenings with little rhyme or reason.