Forget those magazine offices, law firms, schoolrooms, and coffee shops. The great unexplored milieu for a TV sitcom is the hippie commune. It’s a setup with everything—a ready-made wacky ensemble, outrageously drug-addled behavior, far-out period slang, ancient pop music, bizarre clothing (or lack of same), and a built-in laugh track. Given the iron law of audience demographics, it’s increasingly unlikely that such a premise will come to fruition, but producers can get a taste of what they missed with Swedish director Lukas Moodysson’s second feature, Together.
The Stockholm commune for which this affectionate bear-swipe of a comedy is named is presented as a priori anachronistic. Goran (Gustaf Hammarsten), the endlessly good-natured central figure, wakes up one morning in November 1975 to hear a radio bulletin that Spain’s longtime fascist dictator is finally dead. Total excitement: The communards hug and kiss. Even their children are thrilled, jumping up and down and chanting, “Franco is dead!” We’ve entered an alternate universe. Further drama (along with a nostalgic blast of ABBA’s “S.O.S.”) is provided when Goran’s sister Elisabeth (Lisa Lindgren), beaten by her alcoholic husband, decides to beam aboard the Together starship as well. Communard Anna (Jessica Liedberg) has distracted the morning chores meeting by appearing naked from the waist down—she’s oxygenating a yeast infection—and her estranged husband Lasse (Ola Norell) is pulling down his pants in protest as Elisabeth arrives, two unhappy kids in tow.
The chaotic Together household is decorated with posters of Che, Emma Goldman, and (in the kitchen) Mao. They own a sun-splashed Volkswagen minibus and have an uptight bourgeois neighbor spying on them with binoculars (when he’s not down in his basement jerking off). Moodysson provides a fond précis of commune life—the rondo of casual backbiting, constant bickering, and debates over the political correctness of the children’s book Pippi Longstocking. There’s a striking absence of animals but an abundance of types—Erik, the banker’s son turned bellicose communist (Olle Sarri); Klas, the lonely gay guy with a Sandra Dee flip (Shanti Roney); Anna, the newly minted militant lesbian; Lasse the cynic; the children named Tet and Moon. The actors, mainly newcomers, have an improvisational freshness well matched to the freewheeling camera work—although, for dramatic purposes, they seem to be acting like they just met.
Nothing here approaches the confrontational craziness of Lars von Trier’s The Idiots, although Moodysson does have a bit of fun with the burden of open relationships—or any relationship, for that matter. When Goran’s girlfriend, Lena (Anja Lundqvist), decides to comfort unhappy Erik, he’s left alone to be punished by the sound of her high-decibel orgasm drowning out the rock music that Anna is blasting downstairs. Of course, the bourgeois family is a horror as well. After Elisabeth leaves him, her husband, Rolf (Michael Nyqvist), goes into a prolonged alcoholic funk. The movie’s set piece has Rolf taking his two kids out to a Chinese restaurant. When they tell him that their new home has no TV, they are not allowed to eat meat, and Christmas presents are forbidden, he throws a mad tantrum of deprivation that ultimately results in his being locked up while the children wait pathetically on the street.
Together poses many soap opera questions, as any commune would. Will Anna seduce Elisabeth before Rolf manages to dry out? Can Anna’s abandoned husband, Lasse, find happiness with the ardent Klas? Is Erik going to recruit even one person to his political party? How long will the people-pleasing Goran stand for free-spirited Lena’s sexual antics? In counterpoint, as well as to dramatize her own alienation, Elisabeth’s 13-year-old daughter, Eva (Emma Samuelsson), moves out of the house and into the Together bus. Sitting there with an appropriately sour expression, she meets an equally shy neighbor boy, Frederik (Henrik Lundström).
As in his first film, the teenage coming-out comedy Fucking Amal (released here as Show Me Love), Moodysson cares most for these outcast kids. In general, children are shown as a positive element. (The filmmaker himself would have been six or seven at the time the movie is set.) We know the commune is growing up when Goran gives in to their desires and buys a little black-and-white television set—an act that drives the commune’s purest members to depart for the rival Mother Earth collective. Soon the kids are playing forbidden war games (taking turns being Pinochet and his tortured victim) and demonstrating for the introduction of meat into their diet. “We draw the line at Coca-Cola,” Lasse finally tells them. “We don’t support multinational pigs.”
The purest love is between the two friendless four-eyes, Eva and Frederik. That’s one of the movie’s sentimental—or, if you prefer, optimistic—touches. Like Fucking Amal, Together is programmatically out-front. Moodysson is nearly as sweet tempered as Goran; it’s a bit frightening to think what the more judgmental Mike Leigh and his regulars might have done with the material after living with it for a year. Moodysson is a messy humanist; his movie’s brusque zooms match its big heart.
Click here to read Dennis Lim’s profile of Together director Lukas Moodysson.