Danish director Thomas Vinterberg serves up a darkly comic look at life in a modern commune
Copenhagen in the mid-seventies. When architect Eric (Ulrich Thomsen) inherits his father's home in an upmarket suburb, his first thought is to sell it. But his wife Anna (Trine Dyrholm) and teenage daughter Freja (Martha Sofie Wallstrøm Hansen) are captivated by the enormous house and want to live in it themselves. More than that, TV newsreader Anna wants to fill it with people.
Their interviews with potential housemates don't bode well. Whether old friends or new people, no-one seems particularly interesting or desirable and they are all far too happy for Eric and Anna to foot the bills. Nevertheless, the commune is formed.
If the opening of Thomas Vinterberg's partly autobiographical film has the hallmarks of nostalgic social satire, anyone accustomed to the Danish director's darker inclinations in such films as Festen and The Hunt won't be surprised to hear that it doesn't stay upbeat for long. And once the commune's honeymoon period – group skinny-dipping, bonfire dancing, shared meals and comically serious house meetings – is out of the way, Vinterberg and regular co-writer Tobias Lindholm turn up the heat.
What ensues doesn't entirely work. The narrative feels torn between the failings of the commune and the more traditional marital conflict that's suddenly thrust to the fore. And aside from the family, none of the housemates are developed beyond the superficial, barely registering when not called on to provide a laugh.
But while the focus is a bit wobbly, emotionally the film still packs a punch. Back home after his English-language Far From The Madding Crowd, Vinterberg has excellent assistance from his Festen stars Thomsen and Dyrholm, with the latter justly winning the best actress award in Berlin this year. Her account of Anna's awkward, humiliating attempts to save her marriage within the goldfish bowl of the commune is incredibly moving.
Select release from Fri 29 Jul.