The curdling dream of free love and Me-Decade idealism is rich material for lauded Danish director Thomas Vinterberg’s latest: an intimate, bittersweet study of communal living drenched in the unfiltered weed smoke and wide-wale corduroy of 1970s Copenhagen.
When architecture professor Erik (Ulrich Thomsen) inherits his father’s ramshackle mansion, he sees no reason to do anything other than flip it for a quick profit and move on. But his news-anchor wife Anna (Trine Dyrholm), restless and ready for a change, suggests that they and their teenage daughter Freja (Martha Sofie Wallstrom Hansen) move in instead; to offset the cost, they’ll invite friends and maybe even welcome a few strangers who pass the chemistry test.
The motley crew that eventually comes together share certain sensibilities—mostly involving casual nudity, cigarettes, and earnest, wine-fueled debates around the dining-room table—as well as a high tolerance for tolerance; their group bond is sealed with a frigid, giggling skinny dip. But Vinterberg, a founding member of the Dogme 95 collective and the force behind films both great (The Hunt, The Celebration) and good (Far From the Madding Crowd), isn’t just skimming ’70s clichés, even if his lens does skew sentimental (understandably; the story is inspired by his own childhood), and echo many of the themes in the similar, stronger 2000 Swedish drama Together.
For all its set-dressing of sexual awakenings and potluck dinner parties, The Commune is essentially a portrait of a marriage stretched to its breaking point; as Erik’s affair with a pretty, much-younger student (Helene Reingaard Neumann) moves to the center, the limits of the house’s breezy presumptions of freedom become clear, as does the reach of the collateral damage. (Men in general don’t come off well in Commune’s world; they’re mostly selfish, oblivious, or cruel. Its leading women, though, are gratifyingly layered). The movie may feel minor next to Vinterberg’s more serious work, but it’s more personal, too: A messy, tender window into the world that shaped him. B+