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Danish Filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg Gets Deeply Personal In 'The Commune'


Thomas Vinterberg is not an easy filmmaker to pin down. In English, he's leapt from science fiction to the costume drama "Far From The Madding Crowd." In his native Denmark, he tends to make intensely intimate films, like his Oscar nominee "The Hunt." Critic Bob Mondello says Vinterberg's new film is his most personal. It's called "The Commune."

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: When Erik inherits his father's house in Copenhagen, his first instinct is to sell. It's huge, he tells his wife, Anna, way too expensive to maintain on a professor's salary. But it's the 1970s, and Anna has what was back then a trendy thought. Invite some friends, his buddy Ole, for example...


ULRICH THOMSEN: (As Erik, speaking Danish).

TRINE DYRHOLM: (As Anna, speaking Danish).

THOMSEN: (As Erik) Ole.

DYRHOLM: (As Anna) Ja.

MONDELLO: ...To live with them and share costs.


THOMSEN: (As Erik, speaking Danish).

DYRHOLM: (As Anna, speaking Danish).

MONDELLO: Come on, old man, it'll be fun. Their daughter Freja agrees, and suddenly Erik is interviewing friends - first Ole, who has no job and can't pay.


THOMSEN: (As Erik, speaking Danish).

LARS RANTHE: (As Ole, laughter).

MONDELLO: Then a couple who can pay but are rules freaks and have a 6-year-old with a heart condition.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character, speaking Danish).

MONDELLO: "I'm going to die when I turn 9," he tells 14-year-old Freja with a soulful look. It is, they all agree, quite a come-on. Then there's a friend who's a laugh riot and a little nuts.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character, laughter).

MONDELLO: And a stranger who bursts into tears when they ask him about money.


FARES FARES: (As Allon, crying).

MONDELLO: What could possibly go wrong, right? Anyone who's ever lived in a group house will have an inkling. Filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg lived in a commune from the age of 7 until he was 19, a time when he remembers being, quote, "surrounded by beer, genitals and high-level academic discussions," which is more or less what he serves up in the movie, plus the occasional dramatic development, as when Erik, the master of the house, embarks on an affair with a student, blonde like his wife Anna but a generation younger, then proposes that she move in...


UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) Hello.

MONDELLO: ...With their many housemates. You see in Anna's eyes that her idealism is being tested. This living arrangement was her idea, remember. But she rises to the occasion.


DYRHOLM: (As Anna) Hi.


DYRHOLM: (As Anna) Hi. (Speaking Danish).

MONDELLO: The notion that the family that matters is the family you choose is fashionable in movies at the moment. The characters in "Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2" and "Fate Of The Furious" talk endlessly and sentimentally about the family units they're creating.

Vinterberg is more clear-eyed in "The Commune," with actors who are capable of bringing nuance to notions of what makes for a family of choice, a family gathered and nurtured in adulthood. Having lived through the process himself, the filmmaker knows the pitfalls. Still, his upbringing gave him insights into character and behavior and group dynamics in stressful situations, and those insights arguably have stood him in good stead for the communal task of filmmaking. I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.
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