Danish director Thomas Vinterberg’s own experiences of growing up in a commune during the 1970s and 80s inform his unflinching approach to the subject in this drama, which was based on his own stage play, Kollektivet. More heavy-handed than Lukas Moodysson’s similarly themed Together, less abrasively confrontational than The Idiots by fellow Dogme 95 signatory Lars von Trier, The Commune is slightly melodramatic in its exploration of the emotional fallout when an experiment in collective living coincides with the breakdown of a marriage.
When university lecturer Erik (Ulrich Thomsen) inherits a huge house on the outskirts of Copenhagen, he is dissuaded from selling it by his wife, Anna (Trine Dyrholm), who proposes sharing the space with like-minded friends as a way of easing the financial burden, and staving off the middle-class, middle-age ennui that threatens to engulf their marriage. Anna, a local television news reader, thrives in the hubbub of their new living arrangement. But Erik resents the fact that his voice is no longer heard, and is flattered by attention from an attractive young student, Emma (Helene Reingaard Neumann). His hand is forced when the relationship is discovered, in an agonising, beautifully acted scene, by his daughter, Freja (Martha Sofie Wallstrøm Hansen, excellent throughout in one of the few substantial supporting roles). When Emma moves into the commune as Erik’s new partner, Anna finds herself stranded on the outside of the community. Her breakdown is bitter and undignified.
Dyrholm’s skill as an actor notwithstanding, this is a rather dispiriting trajectory. And Vinterberg doesn’t help matters with a too obvious piece of broken-heart symbolism in the form of a chronically ill child.