The Commune : A Film Review

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The Commune

Director, Thomas Vinterberg, Writer, Tobias Lindholm, Cast, Anna, (Trine Dyrholm) father, Erik, (Ulrich Thomsen) and daughter, Freya, (Martha Sofie Wallstrom Hansen) Emma (Helene Reingaard Neumann) Allon (Fares Fares) Ole (Lars Ranthe) Mona (Julie Agnete Vang), Ditte (Anne Gry) Steffen (Magnus Millang). Denmark/Sweden/Netherlands. 2016. 1hr 52 mins. Cert. 15.

The Commune – do they exist!

If you’ve ever been to, known someone who has, or heard tell of the world of Communes this is both for you and them.   It not in the least like, presumably, any you may have had previous experience of though. This is set in the 1970’s on the outskirts of Copenhagen, in a rich heirloom mansion.  Erik the university lecturer, whose father has bequeathed it, has his own wife and child.  These gorgeous pastoral surroundings are to be home of a select combination all agreeing arrangements on sharing costs, having some investment in the venture/adventure and freedom of choice on future living.  They are a bunch of friends and acquaintances who share the rat race abandonment with wishes of new age existence.  It requires a large dose of suspension of reality, verging on adopting fairy tale lives, as the idealism needed in most cases, sects, cults, guru, shaken, kibbutz, types have inherent problems as most alternative societies do.  Take Aldous Huxleys The Island, as utopian living, or any dystopian fiction with a narrative such as Margaret Attwoods of alternative existences and the societal divisions they already by way of isolation, set in train.  This Kollectiv is not entirely a failure as an experiment much depending on and enabled by the mix having knowledge of each other to begin with and external encounters go on at a minimal level, schools, jobs etc. about much further on.

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The main trio are mother, Anna, (Trine Dyrholm) father, Erik, (Ulrich Thomsen) and daughter, Freya, (Martha Sofie Wallstrom Hansen).

Togetherness

The basic configuration or notion of living together is a post-agrarian age of living with an age range from elderly, grandparents, defendants, through the procreating couples and relationships within the group, to the children and their own basis as a focus of a self determined future.  The education part is key but in this that is left not to home schooling as at there is only one child here except a boy, nine year old, who is very ill and does stand slightly to the side in the construct of this commune.  Freya is on the cusp of adulthood 14, and just about able for it except this set of arrangements, fresh as they are to everyone, are a bit of a timebomb going off in her head.  If you take Freya as the key person for you to enter the film you will not be disappointed.  If you chose to empathise with and adopt one character which you may of may not connect with then that too will be rewarding.  Can you picture yourself as part of the group? is one of the foremost questions.  Should you flip or sit back exclusive of the group these choices reflect the choices the Commune are making themselves.  It is a bit of a dog rough type of Commune and in Copenhagen – I hope the gentrification of the city village never took place – the Christainia Garden Village in Copenhagen is a famous large alternative ‘Kollectiv’ autonomous group setting which stood against the commercial and industrial direction with a people based needs based peaceful society infrastructure.  It to had its troubles internally and rubbed against but existed alongside the municipal world on its doorstep.  Even outsiders could come and go with the preset of not disturbing the principles that grew and flourished as a kind of amorphous sense of hope.  That was the engaging part for those not choosing to live this way but to experience it at a non-commital way.

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Aims and needs

Thomas Vinterberg movies The Celebration (1998) and The Hunt (2014) and Festen were far more serious and demanding though this, despite its friendly appearance as some sort of sideline feature film, has a surprising intensity as it develops taking with it the confrontation of choices and meanings of freedoms shared and spaces expanded.  You could have an emotional breakdown just watching it if you empathise too closely – you need your own space dude.   The concept comes from the most dynamic and complex character Anna, whose portrayal by Trine Dyrholm is stunningly visceral and haunting.  She puts forward the suggestion to Freya and Erik then a group comprising first – with the help of Freja, she talks Erik into accepting – Allon (Fares Fares – I know I don’t believe it either!) a tall well set teary one, Ole (Lars Ranthe) drinker, laidback Mona (Julie Agnete Vang), deep thinker Ditte (Anne Gry Henningsen) and soft touch Steffen (Magnus Millang). Anna herself is a TV news anchor and she intends and does carry on with this as Erik carries on with his lectureship in – it’s important you note the nuance, well not really but architectural types like myself do, the Rational Architecture specialism he advances.  Consider if you will, if the subject suits his approach to life.  I made that enquiry.  His personality is not one of a creator but analyser and shaper. Fundamental as it is, he has a tendency to be tangential, cantankerous and overbearing.  With Anna he has found to his credit a woman of remarkably sympathetic,idealist, virtuous, generous and open outlook.  As well as possessing a typical Danish clarity of beauty and softness of touch together with a figure which would make a priest consider again his choices.  The film does not so much compartmentise individual characters but has a deft touch showing their positions as seen within a group.  Of other Commune films of the same era it’s worth noting the Swedish year 2000 model Together which took the comic line.

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The big test.

Anna has a problem which Erik brings.  Both are in need of each other but Erik presses his sexual needs and egotistical needs on one of his Rational Architectural students.  Emma (Helene Reingaard Neumann) is half his age and has the beauty and edge of a Briget Bardot, Julie Ege or blonde fairytale goddess.  She fills his new life as his former life may have been with Anna except Anna is still his partner.  This as how Anna believes it now is.  Therein lies the dilemma or new age element of ‘Kollectiv’.  It is not meant to be a facility where men can have multiple partners and women equal to the same freedoms, but is a shared existenance relying on fidelity of the societal form and without crossover of the physical connections made.  The permissiveness of sexual freedoms were not only the new normal of the times in a commune setting but in the wider context also.  As people lived longer so their need for change happened to alter their psyche.  The complex commitments began to unravel as emotional heights never confronted before in this way manifested.  Take modern life and place it in these situations and you will make the connections so well drawn by the devil net, experience of our Director and Ensemble cast.  The script is handled by Tobias Lindholm director of War and his failure is apparent to me in not placing enough social context or liberating the sexual politics or developing more convincingly one or two of the other characters and their viewpoints.  It seems to stagnate but paradoxically brilliantlily in the trio of the family plus one. All of which points to the proper basis being a ten episode Scandinavian TV noir series. Even more intervention of the prominence of TV in revolution or in our case petty domestic squabbles taken out of all sense of proportion.

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How will it work?

The Commune is an examination of the times and the democratisation of a world connected by television – the media Anna exists in reporting daily on Pol pot – 2.30 – Vietnam – 3.00 – Civil Rights – entering everyone’s lives.  The fact TV advanced these visions and alternative theories of previously held political – meaning wisdom as the definition goes – is Tv = demonstration.  The TV takes to the streets and activism is erupting everywhere including opt out.

The film is emotionally arresting and the concept of ‘commune’ itself is explored through the relationships.  The young boy, a child of one of the couples is terminally ill and it comes as part of the hard unavoidable reality components, inescapable wherever.  Those whose fate is in a larger space find they are the ones offering the other ‘space’, space to have another, additional relationship.  It actual points to the probability it is not the offering of space to another but permission as it happens to invade yours.

It doesn’t take a political theorist to come up with a concept of parallel worlds and how they met as contests in society over the leaders and democratic mechanisms fighting for supremacy.  Whose supremacy?  Whose ideals?  Whose guru, whose religions?  As local philosopher Van the Man said, No Guru, No Religion.  Other titles emerging out of those same times from Van Morrison include, after the sex -Astral Weeks – the commune – Tupelo Honey – Beautiful Vision, Common One, Inarticulate speech of the Heart, Wavelength. Those titles speak of change.  I add the note VM thought the best to be, and presumably still does, Common One.

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Conclusion. ####4

I thoroughly went with this film on its time scale, limited scoping range.  As I said it would have, could develop the other relationship portraits more thoroughly.  In fact just a bit would have helped but the primary focus is Anna whose pivotal location as firstly the idea generator, the mother, lover, betrayed, lost, brings quote a lot of issues  and startling effective delivery.  Thomas Vinterberg uses his story and camera very very skillfully as a depiction of the times.  Filmed apparently with a HD video camera this also is homage in cinema to the filmmakers of that era and experimentation.  The film works on so many levels and will remain a good maker for the depiction of an earlier time seen through commune, idealist mostly, partially times. Totally recommended.

 

John Graham

28 July 2016

Belfast

on at QFT Belfast from 29 July to 4 August 2016.

rated 15.

 

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