About a week ago I finally caught up with Vinterberg’s The Hunt. I’d got somewhat railroaded by watching It’s About Love a few years ago, a film that seemed so preposterous that it looked to me as though the director had managed to annihilate the monstrous talent he showed in Festen. Fortunately I was wrong. The Hunt’s critical success was more than merited. It’s as well-made a film as the 21st century has produced so far, combining a ruthless narrative with a gripping premise and some great acting. It pulled off the trick of creating a thriller where no-one is killed and the violence is below the surface rather than above it.
The Commune is not quite as complete a cinematic experience, but then few films have been or will be. Nevertheless, it showcases Vinterberg’s un-flashy hallmarks. At times it feels as though he’s the anti-Refn, though it’s a lucky country that produces two such distinguished filmmakers (not to mention the others). The idea of community underpins all of Vinterberg’s work. The Commune looks at a community that is constructed from scratch, almost as a whim of Anna, the news anchor who is bored of her marriage and decides to invite a host of others to come and live with her and her husband, Erik and daughter, Freja. The film starts with a feelgood vibe as we get to know this odd bunch and see how they interact. Gradually, however, we move into Bergman territory: this is a portrait of a marriage which is imploding. When Erik has an affair and Anna invites his lover to join the commune, her whim comes back to bite her. The second half of the film becomes a study in her disintegration (she looks a like Gina Rowlands in a Cassavetes film). Trine Dryrholm gives a remarkable performance. The family of Anna, Erik and Freya is one kind of collective, which doesn’t survive. However, the collective which Anna has concocted does, in spite of its chaotic nature. When the child of a couple who live there dies, the collective offers real succour to those parents. The Commune offers a more positive vision of communal living than Festen or The Hunt. The collective/ commune might not defend everyone’s interests, but it can offer an antidote to society’s harshness, especially to the weaker members, the oddballs who don’t know how they fit in.
This brief summary doesn’t really do the film justice. Which is part of what’s appealing about the film. It’s a film which isn’t afraid to grapple with ideas, but is prepared to locate those ideas within a very human world. There are small touches, such as when Erik tells Emma that he’s not interested in Le Corbusier’s modular architecture, or the editorial team discuss how much airtime Pol Pot should be given, which reveal the film’s wider intellectual remit. This feels like the work of a director who wants to explore what it means to live in a community, explore the role of love within our modern society, who wants to grapple with big issues, but to do so in a way that resists pretension. It’s drama which is shaped in the shadow of Ibsen, (the script is adapted from a stage play.) It’s refreshing to see a filmmaker believing in the capacity of cinema to take itself seriously, without taking itself over-seriously. The Commune (whose title in Danish is Kollektivet) is an accomplished addition to the Vinterberg canon.