DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
TOGETHER (TILLSAMMANS) (director/writer: Lukas Moodysson; cinematographer: Ulf Brantas; editors: Michal Leszczylowski/Fredrik Abrahamsen; cast: Lisa Lindgren (Elisabeth), Michael Nyqvist (Rolf), Gustav Hammarsten (Göran), Anja Lundkvist (Lena), Emma Samuelsson (Eva), Sam Kessel (Stefan), Jessica Liedberg (Anna),  Shanti Roney (Klas), Olle Sarri (Erik), Axel Zuber (Tet), Ola Norell (Lasse), Henrik Lundström (Fredrik), Sten Ljunggren (Birger); Runtime: 107; IFC Films; 2000-Sweden-in Swedish with English subtitles)

 
"I'm glad I saw it warts and all."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A comical look back at a 1975 Swedish commune, emphasizing the foibles in human nature. This "feel-good" sitcom, much like a soap opera, is from promising 31-year-old Swedish director Lukas Moodysson ("Show Me Love"). This is his second feature and is a gentle but silly story about some shallow, self-absorbed hippies living in a Stockholm commune named Tillsammans, which means together in Swedish. The emotional leader of the group and main focus of the story (probably an alter ego of the director) is the optimistic nice guy Göran (Hammarsten), caught in an open relationship with the busty scheming Lena (Lundkvist). Lena  rattles him by having loud sex with a politically dogmatic bore, the son of a wealthy banker, Marxist Erik (Sarri). Göran also can hear them in his room, and learns that Erik gives her a first-ever orgasm. Erik prefers to talk about politics over doing anything else in life, including sex. Another featured couple in the group has been recently divorced, the playful but cynical Lasse (Norell) and the enticingly new militant Anna (Liedberg). Anna is politically motivated to become a lesbian. The couple continue to live together in the cramped house with their young son, Tet (Zuber), named for the North Vietnamese offensive. The other memorable commune member is Klas (Roney), a lonely gay medical student, with a Prince Valiant mop of blond hair and cute bangs, who is looking for the man of his dreams and hopes that the straight Lasse will become that man.

The film opens in November 1975 with the news coming over the radio that Franco, the fascist head of Spain, has died. Everyone in the commune hugs in an embrace of solidarity, while the commune kids excitedly jump for joy. This sets the mood for an alternative-life experience film. In the background, the Swedish rock group ABBA shows its musical muscle at such an important development and loudly plays its hit SOS song.

But things immediately change for the commune when they are visited by Göran's conventional sister, Elisabeth (Lindgren). She is leaving her alcoholic and abusive husband, Rolf (Nyqvist), with her two children, the 10-year-old Stefan (Kessel) and the 13-year-old Eva (Samuelsson), who reluctantly come with her to this strange house. They are greeted at the commune by Anna, who is naked from the waist down due to a fungus infection, and by the frontally exposed Lasse, who reacted comically to his ex-wife's nudity.

The Together commune has rules about no meat eating, no TV, no Christmas presents, and they rage against a fictional kid's character Pippi Longstocking--whom they view as a materialist pig. They seem to be anything but a group living in harmony, as they argue over little things such as -- who does the dishes, the living expenses, and their petty peeves with one another. Each seems to have his or her agenda.

With the arrival of the outsiders, the film is seen now through the eyes of Elisabeth's two youngsters who find all the adults they meet confusing. Everyone is searching for love, understanding, and their place in this universe, and this emotional human drama is played out fully to that effect. The screen is covered in an emotional red coloring, as the scenes fadeout and move on to the next emotional or sexual crisis.

The house has its alternate-lifestyle decorations consisting of posters of Che, Emma Goldman, and Mao. The commune owns a colorful painted Volkswagen minibus with the name of the commune written across it (an obligatory must for any hippie commune); and, to add some more contrivances to the plot, their stuffy bourgeois neighbor is spying on them with binoculars when he's not in his workroom masturbating.

There are a few set-pieces that are melodramatic and bring home the point of how painful separation is and the need for togetherness as a cure for their pain. In one melodramatic scene, the plumber Rolf throws a temper tantrum in a Chinese restaurant and leaves his youngsters stranded in the street as he gets jailed for the night. Eva shows her displeasure at her mother being chased after by Anna by moving out to live in the van where she meets her soulmate, a clone sporting the same prescription glasses for nearsightedness she is wearing, the nerdy 14-year-old Fredrik (Lundström), the spying neighbor's kid. This will result in a puppy love relationship for these two timid souls, perhaps the most ideal love this movie can manage to come up with.

After the kindly Göran breaks the house rules and buys a small black-and-white TV set for the kids, the commune purists desert for another purist commune. In the final scene Rolf and a lonely man (Ljunggren) who encourages him to get back with his wife, come to the commune and stay over for the night, and the next morning all those still left in the commune get into a football game in the snow. I hope it doesn't sound too cynical for me to say, but is this supposed to mean the commune is together again? Playing football, even if you're no good at it, is that the secret to showing that you can be reformed and worthy of another chance in life! Is the message sent, you can't beat a conventional life for long, sooner or later a conventional life wins out? I hope not, as I think that this nostalgic look back at another generation tries to plant its feet in a middle-ground position between the hippies and the bourgeois, but it does so in a too awkward and sentimental way. I think Moodysson was trying to make a case that all people have to be together no matter how silly or different they are. He leaves you with the simplistic notion that togetherness is better than loneliness.

There's not much depth to this messy film, but it was a good-natured story sweetly told in a non-judgmental way by the humanist Moodysson. My problem with this charming film, is that I would have preferred if it were told in a more judgmental way. The film was also too chatty and could have been better edited, as too many unneeded contrived scenes would have been better left spliced on the cutting-room floor. Moodysson's most splendid filmmaking moment is having the kids taking turns playing 'Pinochet' (he's the cruel Chilean dictator of '70s infamy), as they pretend to torture each other with electrodes. The film would have been better served if it could have had more such magical film moments, yet I'm glad I saw it warts and all.

REVIEWED ON 12/9/2001     GRADE: C+

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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