It’s no secret I’m fond of Danish cinema. It’s the one film industry close to batting 1.000 these days. This week, the remarkable The Commune arrives to the art house circuit, including Saskatoon’s own Broadway Theatre.
Written and directed by Thomas Vinterberg (one of the founding fathers of the Dogma movement), The Commune revolves around a group of people attempting to fulfill the classic 70’s pipe dream of superseding social conventions and truly live in a community (the needs of the individual are subservient to the group’s). Soon they discover the sense of self and property won’t be denied. (see The Commune review)
While a well-esteemed name among film connoisseurs, Vinterberg reached a new echelon with The Hunt, a superb drama about a pre-school teacher falsely accused of molesting a little girl. The film gave Mads Mikkelsen his first Palm D’Or as Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival.
I had the chance to talk to Vinterberg and The Commune’s female lead (and Susanne Bier go-to actress) Tryne Dyrholm at the last Toronto Film Festival.
– I should start by mentioning that my wife has a massive crush on Mads Mikkelsen.
– (Tryne) We all do!
– (Thomas) We have tried to dress him down, we gave him glasses, a weird haircut, and it just doesn’t work. Everybody continues loving him.
– We live in individualistic times. Do you see the pendulum of history swinging back to a more communal mindset?
– (Tryne) In some ways, I do. I see a lot of sharing among the newest generations out of need.
– (Thomas) In the 80’s, the time of sharing was replaced by the opportunity of being an individual. It was a relief for a lot of people who didn’t find themselves safe in a world of constant consensus. That period was also colder and a lot of negative values prospered. This brand of individualism has persisted. In Denmark, there has never been so many people living alone as now.
– Am I correct to say that the seed of the destruction of the commune was planted by the desire to resolve emotional problems democratically?
– (Thomas) They tried to solve everything democratically. At the time, everybody was sharing their emotions all the time. They talked and talked and talked about how they felt. It became a democratic issue.
– (Tryne) A lot of men at the time were children of the 50’s, came out of a patriarchal system and suddenly had to adapt. These men were confused about having to talk about emotions all the time. This was bound to cause problems along the way.
– Tryne, do you have to connect to a character to play it? If so, how do you relate to The Commune’s Anna.
– (Tryne) I build a character from the inside out, so I have to connect with her inner world, understand, explore. It’s also important to get rid of your vanity to show the darkest side of human emotions, which is not necessarily a pretty sight. You are very conscious of playing a part -you are aware of the camera and the crew- but at the same time, you have to let go and be in touch with the moment.
– Anna gives her husband, Erik (Ulrich Thomsen, Banshee), some leeway to carry on an affair and even tolerates him bringing his lover to the commune. What’s her motivation?
– (Tryne) She has very high ideals of what love is. Anna wants Erik to be a free spirit and she wants to be one herself. But she can’t live up to it.
– (Thomas) It’s also her way of gaining control of the situation.
Slight Accents and Rough Faces
– It has always struck me as interesting how Ulrich Thomsen is often cast as the villain in the US and as an everyman in Denmark, a Danish Tom Hanks of sorts. How do you explain this dichotomy?
– (Thomas) It’s the same with Mads. (In Hollywood) there is a tendency to create stereotypes around characters with slight accents and rough faces, while in their own country they have the chance to unfold the whole palette of what they can do. They are so great and nuanced. Just have them as villains narrows their possibilities.
– Why do you think Danish cinema is able to tackle matters American and Canadian cinema seem unable to?
– (Thomas) One practical reason is that we don’t need to convince a banker.
– (Tryne) And the director has final cut.
– (Thomas) State support frees us and gives us more courage. In fact, artistic courage is expected from us.
– (Tryne) We also have a tradition of actors being invited to be part of the process at an early stage of the script. We’re co-creators. A lot of actors started on stage and went into the Dogma films. It was kind of the same people, a whole generation that learned from each other.
– (Thomas) The national film “commune” of Denmark doesn’t exist anymore. Everyone left. Anders Thomas (Jensen) left, Susanne (Bier) left, I left, a little.
– (Tryne) As long as you come back.
– (Thomas) I want to come back, but it’s no longer existing.
– Lars (Von Trier) doesn’t leave.
– (Thomas) He doesn’t dare to leave. He has his own little kingdom.
– (Tryne) He only uses English actors.
– (Thomas) He is not part of the commune anymore.
The Commune will play at the Broadway Theatre May 18th to the 24th. It opens May 19th in Toronto and Calgary and June 16th in Vancouver.