Short Take: The Commune

(Thomas Vinterberg, Denmark, Magnolia Pictures, Opens May 19)

The oft-repeated sentiment that all good things must come to an end is driven home extra hard in Thomas Vinterberg’s latest drama. Set in mid-’70s Copenhagen, the semi-autobiographical film begins as Erik, Anna, and their teenage daughter inherit a large house they can’t afford to maintain. But instead of selling it, they decide to open it up to friends and live communally. An endearing bunch is assembled and their togetherness—sharing drinks, meals, much laughter, and initially happy tears—is infectious, even if many of the housemates’ characters are just asides to the main attraction that is the gradual collapse of the seemingly happy family.

Erik (Ulrich Thomsen), a pompous architecture professor, falls into an affair with one of his students. And when he announces that she’ll be moving in, Anna (a stupendous Trine Dyrholm) tries to accept the news with grace. But she soon begins to unravel, as their daughter (standout newcomer Martha Sofie Wallstrom Hansen) quietly observes and retreats, finding love and distraction with an older boy.

Vinterberg captures family dysfunction like no other, and even the film’s most uplifting elements are counterbalanced with the foreshadowing of tragedy, most movingly in the case of the resident young boy with a heart disease who adorably and heartbreakingly tells everyone he meets that he won’t live to be nine years old.

The Commune may not rank with Vinterberg’s most potent work (The Celebration, The Hunt), but as its lingering emotional impact attests, the film’s simplicities are quite deceptive.