Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg has fun with the 1970s trend of free-spirited cooperative living in “The Commune,” a dramedy about a straight-laced couple’s experience with that way of life in a house filled with eccentrics.
His tonal wand and lead actors keep things absorbing but cannot make up for the movie’s shortages of character development and dramatic depth.
Vinterberg, whose credits include the dark “The Celebration” and “The Hunt” and the sunnier “Far From the Madding Crowd,” continues to demonstrate his lighter side with this quirky housemate comedy entwined with a marital melodrama whose most shattering development is adultery.
The results suggest Lucas Moodysson’s commune-themed “Together” and any of Vinterberg’s fellow Dogme 95 alum Susanne Bier’s domestic stories.
Co-written by Tobias Lindholm and based on a play by Vinterberg (who grew up in a commune), the story transpires in a coastal town in mid-1970s Denmark. TV newswoman Anna (Trine Dyrholm) and architecture professor Erik (Ulrich Thomsen) are a conventional middle-aged couple whose marriage is stagnating.
At Anna’s urging, Erik decides not to sell the spacious house he has inherited.
Instead, the couple move into the home with 14-year-old daughter Freja (Martha Sofie Wallstrom Hansen) and turn it into a commune. The inhabitants — themselves, plus a handful of idiosyncratic sorts — collectively keep the place running.
As everyday commune life (skinny-dipping outings, house meetings, a beer fund) ensues, a love affair occurs externally.
Erik, adjusting to his relaxed living situation, becomes involved with a 24-year-old student, Emma (Helene Reingaard Neumann).
Anna responds so calmly — she even wants Emma to join the commune — that we know she hasn’t yet processed the full reality of Erik’s infidelity.
Dyrholm and Thomsen excel; the exquisite Dyrholm makes Anna, the more sympathetic character, a compelling presence as her comfort zone collapses and her feelings of togetherness unravel.
Vinterberg gives the housemate dynamics a warm and cozy charm.
But these two aspects of the movie seem at odds, and neither is sufficiently substantial on its own.
The marital drama, while the actors keep it absorbing, is stock, and the housemate material is soapy and sitcommy beneath the naturalistic Dogme-style lighting.
With the exception of leftist pal Ove (Lars Ranthe), who calls lots of the shots, no supporting character is defined beyond a designated quirk or two.
Mona (Julie Agnete Vang) reportedly has numerous male visitors, and Allon (Fares Fares) is an immigrant who cries easily — but viewers never learn their stories.
The screenplay becomes maudlin when presenting a minor character’s death.
The actors keep the movie involving, and for some, Dyrholm’s performance alone is ticket-worthy. But the impact quickly fades when she leaves the screen.
This movie could have been a gem, and the numerous missed opportunities are frustrating.
Two and a half stars
Starring: Trine Dyrholm, Ulrich Thomsen, Lars Ranthe, Helene Reingaard Neumann
Written by: Thomas Vinterberg, Tobias Lindholm
Directed by: Thomas Vinterberg
Running time: 1 hour, 51 minutes