Everybody who grew up in the 1970s have their memories of what that was like, and in Sweden we’ve all had to relate to the fact that leftwing movements had a cultural impact on society. At the same time, there’s no reason to exaggerate that impact; my (fairly conservative) family is an example of how that climate made little difference. This movie, a huge hit in Sweden that was also shown in many other countries and won awards internationally, takes the opportunity to have fun with radical leftwing ideals.
The year is 1975. Elisabeth (Lisa Lindgren) is sick of her abusive and alcoholic husband Rolf (Michael Nyqvist) and after getting beaten up she takes their two kids and joins a collective called Together, where her brother Göran (Gustaf Hammarsten) is living with his younger girlfriend. Together is renting a suburban villa and consists of disparate people, including a militant communist (Olle Sarri), a gay man (Shanti Roney) and a couple (Ola Rapace, Jessica Liedberg) that used to be married but broke up when she decided to be a lesbian instead.
Elisabeth’s children are having a hard time getting used to the collective, and Rolf becomes increasingly unhappy and desperate without his family…
A different and interesting follow-up
Director Lukas Moodysson had a celebrated feature film breakthrough with his teenage drama Show Me Love (1998) and this is certainly a different and interesting follow-up. His last film focused primarily on the drama between two leading characters, but this is more of an ensemble piece, meant to provoke laughs rather than tears.
The film has a pleasant autumnal tone and production designer Carl Johan De Geer (celebrated artist and musician of noble descent who became a leftwing icon in the late 1960s) has meticulously recreated the look and feel of 1970s Sweden inside the villa that houses Together. Several of the characters resemble caricatures, including the young, hopelessly naive communist who dreams of a future together with the Red Army Faction in West Germany; Göran who is desperately trying to please warring factions within the collective while also maintaining his socialist ideals; and the couple who are outraged to learn that a TV set, this imperialist tool, has been brought into the collective to make the kids happy. But all of these people are portrayed with a great sense of humor and warmth, especially Hammarsten as Göran. The same is actually true of Nyqvist as Rolf, a man few of us will find appealing as he’s incapable of controlling his anger. The filmmakers nevertheless see a future for him, and Nyqvist makes us at least understand that he’s genuinely struggling to improve himself.
We’re meant to find the political naïvité amusing, but Moodysson has serious thoughts behind all of it as well. An important theme is how to avoid the negative consequences of loneliness. Moodysson cared deeply about his adolescent characters in Show Me Love, and in this film he’s depicting children who are dangerously exposed to adults whose moral instincts are led astray, symbolized by Göran’s girlfriend, too young, selfish and irresponsible to understand the consequences of her actions.
All of this may sound like Moodysson has a conservative bias, but that would be taking it a bit far. Living in a collective is not very different from having a family, and the filmmakers seem to be saying that you can’t simply escape the rules and human instincts that form a society, unless exactly everybody fully agree to do so. Moodysson simply can’t stand it when that kind of behavior or attitude could harm children.
Together 2000-Sweden-Denmark-Italy. 106 min. Color. Produced by Lars Jönsson. Written and directed by Lukas Moodysson. Cinematography: Ulf Brantås. Production Design: Carl Johan De Geer. Cast: Lisa Lindgren (Elisabeth), Michael Nyqvist (Rolf), Gustaf Hammarsten (Göran), Anja Lundqvist, Jessica Liedberg, Ola Rapace… Shanti Roney, Cecilia Frode, Olle Sarri, Sten Ljunggren.
Trivia: Original title: Tillsammans. Ljunggren’s character also appeared in a 1997 short directed by Moodysson, Bara prata lite.
Last word: “We were really careful about the clothes and so on, but when people put them on, they just looked funny. I don’t think there’s any other decade that has that instant comedy. I played with the idea of changing the time to the present. For me it’s not a film about the 1970s; it’s more like a film about what happens if you concentrate human relationships in a single house.” (Moodysson, The Guardian)