In Denmark during the early 1970s, news anchor Anna (Trine Dyrholm) and her professor husband Erik (Ulrich Thomsen) inherit a large house by the sea. Unable to determine whether to sell it for a good price or live in the affluent neighbourhood, the couple decides to use the space as a commune. Soon, left-wing Danes are taking up shelter and making agendas about how to behave in the house, which sometimes irk the more traditional owners. However, when Erik starts an affair with one of his students, Emma (Helene Reingaard Neumann), and she joins him in the communal home, tension grows in the freewheeling space.

The Commune, surprisingly, is less about the numerous inhabitants of the spacious home by the sea. Instead, the narrative is more of a chamber drama. In its latter half, it focuses mainly on Anna as her husband’s infidelity and his young ingénue tilt her life out of balance. It is fascinating to see how a space with espoused liberal values slowly reveals Erik’s patriarchal grip on the space. Thomsen, more blunt than bohemian, gets some lovely moments as Erik reveals his own mistakes and insecurities. Meanwhile, Dyrholm gives a quietly devastating performance as a woman trapped in her own home, rustling alone in her bed. (Both actors were previously in director Thomas Vinterberg’s The Celebration. It makes one wonder whether The Commune could have benefitted more from the jarring intimacy associated with the Dogme movement.)

Vinterberg’s new film, which he wrote with Tobias Lindholm, is an adaptation of his stage play. This production detail mostly resonates during long, although tautly written discussions around the living room table. Yet despite the ensemble nature of the story, many of the residents are relegated to bit parts. (Some, thankfully, provide comic relief from the uncomfortable family drama.) The lack of characterization could have been more of a gaping issue for The Commune, as the prickly love triangle involving Anna, Erik, and Emma absorbs much of the film’s latter half. But the performances there are superb and affecting. Vinterberg finds clever ways to light and stage parallel sequences involving Anna and Emma – even their names are similar.

Still, there is a lack to what should be a more bustling 112-minute film. Some subplots, including the coming-of-age for Anna and Erik’s daughter, Freja (Martha Sofie Wallstrøm Hansen), needed more of a presence. There is a richer and more daring film to be made about the lives of a group of fiery progressives during the Vietnam era. One wonders why a film with this elaborate cast of characters could feel, aside from some full frontal nudity, so conservative.

Is The Commune opening weekend worthy?

It depends on your tastes. This is a hit-and-miss adaptation that moves between nuanced characterization (with the main love triangle) and a lack of that with the supporting ensemble. Those looking for a more essential Vinterbeg-Lindholm collaboration should check out (or revisit) 2013’s The Hunt.

The Commune opens Friday, May 19, 2017 at TIFF Bell Lightbox. Check their website for more information.

The Commune Trailer