Thomas Vinterberg on How His Unusual Childhood Inspired 'The Commune'

By Mitchell, Wendy | Screen International, February 9, 2016 | Go to article overview

Thomas Vinterberg on How His Unusual Childhood Inspired 'The Commune'


Mitchell, Wendy, Screen International


Danish film-maker Thomas Vinterberg is proud of his unusual childhood. "I grew up among genitals in a big house, and it was absolutely fabulous and wonderful," he says with a big grin.

He lived with his parents and a group of their intellectual friends in a large communal house in north Copenhagen from the age of seven to 19. "I remember it as golden, fantastical, but of course there were dramatic issues, conflicts."

He's clear it's not jokes about genitals, body hair and organic food that inform his new film, The Commune. "Most films about communes are sort of a sellout of hippy ideals and make people look like caricatures," Vinterberg says. "In this film I was trying to dig a bit deeper and also defend it a bit more and make as honest a portrait of that time as possible."

The project started as a stage play for Vienna's Burgtheater in 2011. Then Vinterberg recruited Tobias Lindholm - his collaborator on Submarino and The Hunt - to co-write a film script. That close collaboration helped take it past Vinterberg's personal stories and memories.

"It's definitely not autobiographical; I'm saying it's 'based on a true feeling'... This is no longer my or my parents' story, but it mirrors an atmosphere of my childhood and I hope it's loyal to it," Vinterberg explains.

The commune of the title provides the backdrop to a family drama about a woman losing her place in her family and her daughter's coming of age. The film tells the story of newscaster Anna (Trine Dyrholm), her professor husband Erik (Ulrich Thomsen) and their teenage daughter Freya (newcomer Martha Sofie Wallstrom Hansen), who inherit a house larger than they need and decide to invite friends to live with them. But the family dynamic changes, and Erik takes a younger lover, Emma (played by Vinterberg's wife Helene Reingaard Neumann), leaving Anna feeling broken.

"In essence it's a story about how everybody is replaceable and how horrible that is to realise," says Vinterberg. "But by telling that story you emphasise how important love is to us, how endearing it is to us."

Vinterberg says the commune's members function as something of a classical choir. "Or it's the rock band you want to be a part of. And inside of that there's a family tragedy. Such as in Festen and The Hunt, there is this body of warmth and also a tragic spine."

The Commune reunites Vinterberg with Dyrholm and Thomsen for the first time since they made 1999's Festen. "I felt all three of us came with the most embracing and generous attitude," says the director. …

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