The Commune

Studio: Magnolia Pictures
Directed by Thomas Vinterberg

May 17, 2017 Web Exclusive
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Collegiate professor Erik and news anchor Anna are an essentially happy, albeit bored, middle-class couple. When Erik’s father passes away and leaves them a house larger than they and their teenaged daughter need, Anna suggests a radical life shift—rather than sell the house for a handsome sum, why don’t they invite an assortment of their friends to move in with them? Soon enough, and after only minor protest, Erik agrees, and he and Anna begin interviewing acquaintances interested in joining their newly formed commune. Over the next few months, as the group adjusts to its new set of daily routines, Erik takes up with one of his students, a public affair that endangers both his immediate and chosen families.

It’s disappointing to acknowledge that The Commune comes from the same team that crafted the exquisite 2012 film, The Hunt. In that, director Thomas Vinterberg and his writing partner Tobias Lindholm delivered the layered, absolutely riveting psychological drama of a man accused of a horrible crime by a young child, proving they have the chops to tackle fully realized, complex characters in intense situations. The Commune ought to have provided ample room for them to once again flex these muscles, delving into a fascinating and narratively fecund living structure. However, upon execution, it is as if they took everything promising about a commune, and threw it out the window in favor of a more staid family drama.

Erik’s relationship with his student is only mildly interesting—in great part because of Anna’s surprising, reserved, and almost accepting response—and it’s impact upon the house is marginal at best. In fact, their marital woe, which takes center stage, competes with all of the other characters’ lives for most hackneyed or forced. One house member (whose connection to the group is never really explained) has no money and defaults to crying whenever he’s presented with disappointment. Another has a reputation for being generous with her body, but beyond a few winks, her proclivities are hardly touched upon. And the only other set of parents in the house live in constant fear of their young son’s impending death; he was born with a rare and fatal heart condition and given a short prognosis. This last subplot is perhaps the most egregious. Vinterberg and Lindholm have both proven over the course of their careers to be far more skilled storytellers, filmmakers who do not need to fall back on a dying child to carry emotional weight. Even their treatment of the ominous condition seems flippant, making all that much harder to care about anyone in the household.

Yet, at its worst, The Commune is a severely missed opportunity to explore life in the titular social setting. Aside from a few house meetings and general suggestions of polyamory and collective child rearing, Vinterberg does disappointly little to explore group living. The housemates drink beer together and argue over who owes what share of rent, but this superficial depiction of commune culture is little more than tantamount to Greek life in college. Where is the deeper introspection of a handful of unrelated adults that have actively chosen to live as a unit? Where is the opposing point of view, ostensibly that of neighbors and the immediate surrounding society, living a more traditional, one-family-to-a-home suburban lifestyle? In The Commune’s first act, Erik directly decries (for what is not the first time) that he will not live in a commune. He obviously has ingrained judgment toward and hesitations about communal lifestyles, but Vinterberg avoids any mining of why, and fails to probe the implication that Erik’s initial point of view is in the societal majority. Instead, he delivers a mediocre portrait of a failing marriage that has the added misfortune of crumbling in the presence of a live-in, albeit two-dimensional audience.

Author rating: 5.5/10

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