The year is 1975, and the death of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco has just been announced. The members of a Stockholm commune rejoice, chanting, "Franco is deeeeadd! Franco is deeeaad!" But their solidarity is short-lived. They soon face the practical matters at hand, such as: Whose turn is it to wash the dishes?
"I washed them the other day," one insists.
Another also refuses, protesting, "It's bourgeois to wash dishes!"
It's these contradictions of the hippie movement that Swedish writer/director Lukas Moodysson so adeptly and humorously explores in his ambitious second feature, Together. Acknowledging that his heart is with the Reds, Moodysson has admitted that in this film, he "lashes out pretty hard again against the mistakes of the '70s Left" and believes that "a refusal to compromise between the two sides" was what ultimately derailed the movement.
The failure to compromise similarly destroys the commune Tillsammans (Swedish for "together"). During the dishwashing argument, the group's cynic, Lasse (Ola Norell), says it's hard to concentrate on their philosophical debate when he's staring at that.The camera pans to Anna (Jessica Liedberg), who is naked from the waist down. Lasse, who happens to be Anna's ex-husband (she left him to "become" a lesbian), says her display is inappropriate, which spins off another argument about whether she should be able to walk around the house like that. Anna explains that she has a yeast infection and needs to air herself out. Ah-hah! How unsanitary, considering she's leaning against the kitchen counter. To demonstrate how disgusting it is, Lasse whips out his penis.
Stumbling into this idyllic scene are a commune member's sister, Elisabeth (Lisa Lindgren), and her children. Having fled her abusive, alcoholic husband, the housewife is seeking refuge. But this is an ill-conceived retreat, and Elisabeth herself becomes another point of contention, as some of the members—despite their professions of acceptance, sharing and tolerance—are more concerned about their meditation room being occupied than helping people in need.
While she embraces some of the group's beliefs—like not shaving her armpits—and becomes an independent woman in the process, Elisabeth and her children gradually cause some of the people to rethink their beliefs and soften their stances against allowing meat and Pippi Longstocking (the plucky red-headed girl featured in Swedish books and '70s movies who is considered a symbol of capitalism and materialism) in their confines. Instead of compromising to keep the group together, the hardcore members leave.
With a superb cast consisting mostly of theater actors, Moodysson, a poet and novelist before he became a filmmaker, prevents the group of sometimes-extreme characters from falling into SNL-like caricature—a task he accomplished on a smaller scale with his first feature film, 1998's Show Me Love (originally called Fucking Åmål but renamed for distribution to uptight English/American audiences). Whereas Show Me Lovewas about two teenage girls coming of age and coming out in a small town, Together signifies the coming of age of the '70s Leftist movement. Here it's the adults who need to do the growing up. Liberal politics and love are fine in theory, but idealism must be balanced with realism.
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Committed to the idealism of having an open relationship, Elisabeth's optimistic, ultracompromising brother, Göran (played sympathetically by Gustaf Hammersten), allows his girlfriend to sleep with Erik the radical communist, who actually only gives in to her advances on the condition that they talk politics afterward. After hearing her moans of ecstasy through the wall, Göran becomes nauseated by jealousy when she returns to tell him that she had her first orgasm ever ("God, it was sooo nice," she carries on), and he soon starts puking. "Too much theorizing will break you in the end," Moodysson has commented. "Free love sounds great, but if it makes people feel bad, then it's not so great."
In fact, as in many Swedish films, it's the children who exhibit the greatest maturity and insight in Together. As Elisabeth's mousy daughter Eva (a stoic Emma Samuelsson, whose bespectacled gaze conveys intelligence beyond her years) smartly observes, the commune adults are such nonconformists that they believe everything should be the opposite. For instance, Eva believes that Anna becomes a lesbian because everyone likes guys, so Anna's just going to like women instead. It's this fundamentalism that unites the group and ultimately drives them apart. In the case of Eva's family, it isn't until her parents separate that her dad realizes what he's lost and seeks to change. Separation is what brings them together in the end.
While making breakfast one morning, Göran tries to explain to the kids that people are like porridge. They are individual oats that, when mixed and heated, become one warm, good-for-you soft mass—an entity bigger than themselves. But as he spoons it out for them, the sticky, clumpy porridge doesn't look tasty at all. The reality is it's a mix of the appealing and the unappetizing—just like real relationships are.
Together was written and directed by Lukas Moodysson; produced by Lars Jönsson; and stars Ola Norell, Lisa Lindgren and Jessica Liedberg. Now playing at Edwards University, Irvine.