Together (Tillsamanns) Movie Review
It's palatable, remarkable and amusing, the completeness with which "Together" captures the carefree spirit of commune life in 1970s Stockholm -- and the cancerous human nature that threatens the hippie bliss.
Within its first few minutes, the film has introduced us to an appealing houseful of unharmonious idealists as they get into a heated argument about the sanitary etiquette of going bottomless to the dinner table and whether or not it's bourgeois to wash up before eating.
Into this scene of clashing alt-culture domesticity walks Goran (Gustaf Hammarsten), the house's peacemaker and emasculated doormat, bringing his suburban housewife sister and her two kids who need a place to stay after leaving her abusive, drunken lout of a husband.
Debate is spawned, sleeping arrangements are made after much consternation ("But this room is for relaxation and meditation!"), and before long both the viewer and the reluctant new housemates begin to feel like part of the "family."
Writer-director Lukas Moodysson has a light, sentimental touch that makes the audience feel connected with these people, even the ones you don't like at first. Lasse (Ola Norell), for instance, delights in provoking his housemates and picks on weaker souls like Goran to make himself feel big.
Lasse is bitter over his recent divorce from Anna (Jessica Liedberg), who still lives under the same roof but has become a lesbian "for political reasons." She befriends Elisabeth the housewife (Lisa Lindgren) and introduces her to socialism and unshaved armpits.
Lena (Anja Lundqvist) is Goran's inwardly conflicted and outwardly promiscuous girlfriend, so keen on open relationships that her milquetoast man plays along just to keep her happy. Goran quietly steams as she frequently sleeps with Erik (Olle Sarri) the house's resident angry communist -- who later kicks her out of bed because she won't engage in political pillow talk.
The story's primary focus, however, eventually falls on the discomfort and frustration of Elisabeth's grievously displaced kids -- quiet, nerdly, 13-year-old Eva (Emma Samuelsson) and surly 10-year-old Stefan (Sam Kessel).
Eva isolates herself, spending hours alone in the commune's flower-power VW van and forming a tentative first romance with a pudgy outcast neighbor boy -- much to the horror of his judgmentally square parents who disdain the hippies. Eva also sees right through the commune's philosophies, noting that the only goal seems to be to do the opposite of anything considered conformist.
Meanwhile, Stefan becomes more hostile and buddies up to Lasse and Anna's politically brow-beaten son Tet (named after the failed Vietnam offensive), teaching him to play war and launching a campaign to get the house a TV and the occasional non-vegetarian meal. Taking a cue from their residential role models, they even stage a protest in the kitchen, carrying signs and chanting, "We want meat!"
The story's secondary focus becomes the selfishness and lack of conviction that begins to break down the commune's already lax structure to the point that members begin moving out.
On its most serious note, "Together" also follows the downward spiral of Eva and Stefan's alcoholic father (Michael Nyqvist), who attempts to bond with his kids on occasional visitation outings but continues to alienate them with public displays of drunkenness and temper.
From character traits to costumes to the VW van and the strategic use of ABBA songs, 32-year-old Moodysson does a brilliant job of recreating the atmosphere of an era he was too young to remember. His ability to make the viewer feel a part of the commune is a tribute to his Scandinavian vérité filmmaking style, influenced by directors such as Lars Von Trier. And he garners wonderfully human performances across the board.
The writer-director seems to have taken a page from Hollywood for his too-upbeat finale, which offers instant redemptions and reconsiliations. But the film is light enough that while this is a conspicuous departure from the overall themes, it doesn't feel like a like a betrayal.