The Man Who Was Thursday

Temptation, doubt and denial are the three stages of watching this Catholic detective story "inspired" by GK Chesterton's classic metaphysical thriller of the same name. No amount of Christian apologetics can save this fevered nonsense.

Recalled from his parish for spiritual rehab, an implausibly handsome young priest, Father Smith (François Arnaud), is manipulated into being a double-agent for the Vatican in the hunt for an anarchist group. He is to discover the true name of Sunday, the leader of the group known only by days of the week. Not knowing who to trust, old church or new cult, Smith begins to lose his grip on reality.

 The Man Who Was Thursday begins with a pulpy noir atmosphere that holds the attention. When a femme fatale in a confessional says she thinks about Jesus when pleasuring herself with a cucumber, you certainly take notice. It stops being so much fun, however, when it starts to take itself seriously. Attempting to do so while tossing around time travel, Mussolini, goth bondage clubs, neo-nazis and Vatican spies, is a fool's errand - better that The Man Who Was Thursday had realised this and kept things lurid and light. Instead, the film tries to build itself a message - though God only knows what that message is - on a foundation of sand.

With a wacky final sequence that truly has to be seen to be believed, The Man Who Was Thursday probably hopes it screws with your mind in the same way as fellow religious thrillers Angel Heart and Jacob's Ladder. Not even close. Dan Brown would pass up such an ending for being far too stupid. While never ceasing to be ironically enjoyable, The Man Who Was Thursday wastes a great book on a diabolical mess.

The Commune

Thomas Vinterberg returns to home truths in big houses in this loosely autobiographical dramedy. Co-written with Tobias Lindholm, who he worked with on The Hunt and Submarino, this is a more lightweight, crowd-pleasing Vinterberg, but The Commune still maintains enough of his sharp edge to not be a disappointment. 

Having received a vast Copenhagen home from his late parents, high-strung architect Erik (Ulrich Thomsen) is convinced by his wife, TV news anchor Anna (Trine Dyrholm), and teen daughter Freja (Martha Sofie Wallstrom Hansen) to open up the house as a commune to friends and a few strangers. Anna's bold experiment in modern living is strained, though, when Erik starts an affair with a young student, Emma (Helene Reingaard Neumann). Erik and Anna agree to a separation, but in an act of desperation, rather than have her husband immediately leave, Anna suggests that Emma come stay temporarily in the commune. Erik takes this as a more permanent suggestion, though, and Anna finds herself unable to cope with the twisted arrangement.

Dyrholm is excellent as Anna, her gradual combustion as she's ostracised and insulted is perfectly played, and she captures all the pain and confusion of someone betraying their instincts. Thomsen as her philandering husband is equally strong, his pettiness and sense of entitlement is a well-paced slow-burn until exploding in one fabulous scene of cringeworthy infantile howling. The well-realised alt-family dynamic is aided by a great supporting cast, with the chaotic cross-talk and squabbles the comic highlights of the film. 

While The Commune has something interesting to say about how the freedom and consensus of counter-cultural utopia are often manipulated by immature men to get what they want, that's background to what is essentially a dark, droll but soapy melodrama. Despite the terrible consequences, the members of the commune - other than poor Anna - are never truly confronted with the collapse of their ideals. A rather saccharine ending proves Vinterberg was more interested in the odd period and lifestyle than truly challenging beliefs and standards, as he has done so effectively before in The Hunt and The Celebration. His particular brand of melodrama goes down surprisingly well when coated in his usual dark, sardonic humour, but there's a lack of true bite here.