Director Thomas Vinterberg’s most compelling works – Festen and the Oscar-nominated The Hunt – deal with fractured communities turning against an individual, with surprising dilemmas born from what first appear as straightforward moral quandaries. With The Commune (15 cert, 112 mins ★★★), he observes a collective approaching the precipice, nearing total downfall.
After moving into a huge inherited house, news anchor Anna (Trine Dyrholm) and university lecturer Erik (Ulrich Thomsen) drift towards midlife crisis. Their solution is to turn the property into a commune – already a precarious social dynamic – that see-saws to chaos when Erik invites his young lover to move in with them.
In film, communal living is often portrayed as hedonistic – yet this house’s inhabitants are almost inherently sensible, attuned to the practicalities of shared living spaces and chores. Beyond the central couple, the supporting characters are drawn so broadly it feels as if their purpose is to fill gaps in the drama rather than to become an essential part of the narrative. Their interplay is sketched as a wonky direct democracy, in which interminable house meetings usually result in a fierce debate about the beer budget.
The stakes are much higher for Erik and Anna, especially as the opening act suggests that he is a part-time misanthrope whose next angry outburst could be his last. As a couple, they share a naïvety born out of idealism.
Inevitably, such a change to an established relationship poses a multi-faceted threat. Sex is only a small part of the radical emotional upheaval that follows, while issues of leadership, claustrophobia and law are only hinted at.
The Commune is an uneven tale in which characteristically nuanced performances from Dyrholm and Thomsen complement Vinterberg’s desire to pose challenging questions. Devotees of Danish drama, however, would be better served by the similarly themed television series The Legacy.