My first words upon emerging from Glasgow Film Theatre on Wednesday night were: ‘Well, that was brutal’. The Commune is a Danish-language film set in 70s Copenhagen that follows a middle-aged married couple, Anna and Erik, whose decision to begin a commune has far-reaching repercussions for their relationship. As Erik (the bastard) gets together with one of his architecture students, he displays a callous lack of sensitivity towards his struggling wife as she unravels emotionally. Informed by director Thomas Vinterberg’s experience of growing up in a commune in the 70s and 80s, the film is harsh and unflinching in its depiction of the emotional trauma that can result from ill-advised choices.
The poster represents a smiling, cheerful group of people: adults of both genders, a fourteen year old girl and a small six year old walking down the street with companionable camaraderie. Although The Commune is punctuated by moments of laughing joyfulness and there is a genuine sense of warmth amongst the commune’s inhabitants, do not be deceived into thinking that the film is a sunny portrayal of familial community. It is strained, tense and difficult; a family on the brink. Although, admittedly, the house does look lovely and there is a terrifying amount of chunky knitwear.
The acting feels highly realistic – just people being people – and Trine Dyrholm, who won the Silver Bear for Best Actress at the 66th Berlin International Film Festival for her nuanced portrayal for Anna, especially deserves to be congratulated. The film was also fascinating for its illustration of the practical annoyances of commune life: everything from ticking off the beer account to the positives of dishwashing. One thing that struck me was that, despite the commune’s emphasis upon respecting everyone’s feelings, its capacity for incredibly twisted thoughtlessness provided a shocking contrast to the caring, fulfilling atmosphere that characterised the earlier scenes. The Commune was also surprisingly humorous at points, as one house member keeps bursting into sobs and another keeps burning unused things. Ultimately it raises intriguing points about the validity of the nuclear and extended family – is there an ideal way for humans to live?