Thomas Vinterberg was just 26 when he cofounded the Dogme 95 collective with Lars Von Trier (13 years Vinterberg’s senior) and went on to direct the first Dogme film, the critically acclaimed The Celebration. His final collaboration with Von Trier was 2004’s Dear Wendy, and since their split (he says they’re still friends) he’s been adhering to pattern of “one in Danish, one in English” for his films. His latest, The Commune, which opens this weekend in theaters and streaming platforms, is Vinterberg’s first since 2015’s Far From The Madding Crowd, a Thomas Hardy adaptation he described as “traditional director-for-hire work,” his break from being the auteur.
Madding Crowd was, in turn, Vinterberg’s follow-up to 2012’s The Hunt, a film about small town molestation hysteria starring Mads Mikkelsen, which was well received enough to forever inoculate Vinterberg from being called a one-hit wonder. It was also derided in some corners as misogynistic, and perhaps not surprisingly, hailed as a “red pill movie” in the opposite corners, where misogyny allegations are considered a fine pedigree. How much that fight had to do with Vinterberg’s actual movie is debatable. Can you make a movie about a false allegation without alleging a culture of false allegation?
In any case, Vinterberg’s vacation from being an auteur is over once again, as he returns this week with another film in Danish, arguably his most personal work to date. It’s easy to call it that, since Vinterberg was himself raised in a hippie commune. The film grew out of his friends’ fascination with it, and people in his life constantly pushing him to make a film about it. That grew into a heavily improvised theater project in Vienna, which eventually evolved into a film.
Here in the US, raised on stories of Jim Jones and Charles Manson, we’re somewhat conditioned to watch a commune narrative waiting for that proverbial moment “when it all goes wrong.” The Commune doesn’t really have one of those, probably because commune living wasn’t that kind of traumatic experience for Vinterberg. Having lived in one from the age of seven until he was 19, he appreciated the experience so much that when his parents divorced, he stayed. You expect The Commune to have “a take” on communal living, but mostly it doesn’t. If anything, it’s a work of bittersweet nostalgia. As Vinterberg has said, “The film came out of that longing.”
Watching it I wondered if communal living was yet another one of the Boomer generation’s potentially good ideas that was ultimately poisoned by all its bad ones (doing lots of drugs as enlightenment, the idea that jealousy was a bourgeois hang-up that could be cured with drugs, etc). Vinterberg wasn’t ready to be quite that judgmental, but he did have some insights on what ’80s culture gave us that ’70s culture couldn’t, and what parts of communal living he misses even if he wouldn’t necessarily trade to get them back.
Hey, good morning.
Oh, where are you speaking to me from?
I’m speaking to you from Copenhagen, Denmark. I was supposed to be in Brussels, but I’m back for a funeral. And then I’m visiting my dad. Actually, I’m in the house that was… My old commune.
Yeah, very much so. What were you shooting in Brussels?
It’s called Kursk. Starring Colin Firth, and Matthias Schoenaerts, and Léa Seydoux. And about the Kursk accident in year 2000, the submarine that went down.
Is that another one that you wrote, or is that going to be another one that’s like Far from the Madding Crowd where you’re a director for hire?
It’s going to be nothing like Madding Crowd, but yes, I haven’t written it, no. It’s written by Robert Rodat, who wrote the Steven Spielberg movie, what’s it called? The war movie. Saving Private Ryan. Beautiful script.