Thomas Vinterberg's The Commune is partly autobiographical: The Danish director of The Celebration and The Hunt lived in a commune between the ages of 7 and 19, at a time when collective living had become popular in Scandinavia. Maybe that explains the warm light of nostalgia that suffuses the film. Even so, how does something that comes from such a sincere place feel so underdeveloped and halfhearted?
The simple setup could be the premise of a TV sitcom. After his father dies, architecture professor Erik (Ulrich Thomsen) and his newscaster wife, Anna (Trine Dyrholm), decide to turn the sprawling house they've suddenly inherited into an experiment in communal living. Anna has the initial idea. They invite a friend, who in turn invites another; before we know it, a small family of oddballs is living under the same roof. They eat together, they argue and they throw parties. They get drunk and jump naked off piers. It's a chaotic idyll.
All this comes as a source of both wonder and befuddlement to Erik and Anna's teenage daughter, Freja (Martha Sofie Wallstrøm Hansen). At least, I think we're meant to see wonder and befuddlement. Vinterberg regularly cuts to Freja's silent, somewhat expressionless face, almost as if doing so will somehow place the film in her perspective and turn it into a coming-of-age tale. Vinterberg seems to be trying to find a way to focus his diffuse story. A vibrant montage, depicting the ways that prospective members are interviewed and accepted, shows promise. But the connections -- the stuff that will turn these individual moments into something resembling a unified cinematic experience -- just aren't there.