- Swedish commune life is explored in Together, opening this week at the Cedar Lee.
Together is the second feature from Swedish director Lukas Moodysson, whose 1998 Fucking Amal was shown in America two years ago under the title Show Me Love, renamed for obvious reasons. Together is an ensemble piece -- a sharp, perceptive look at a Swedish commune in a suburb of Stockholm, circa 1975. That Moodysson himself would have been just six years old at the time makes his ability to capture the spirit of the era only more impressive.
Since the cast contains no faces familiar to American audiences, it takes a while for us to learn enough to keep track of the different denizens of the house where almost all the action takes place. The de facto head of the household is Goran (Gustav Hammarsten), an ever-patient guy who somehow manages to mediate and calm down the often clashing personalities of the others, who represent a mishmash of assorted countercultural tendencies -- communist revolutionaries, feminists, vegetarians.
Things start to unravel . . . well, since it seems as though things are always unraveling among this group, let's just say that the particular unraveling that forms the dramatic structure of the film begins with two events. First, when Goran learns his more conventional sister, Elisabeth, has been abused by her drunken husband, he invites her and her two children to "temporarily" stay at the house. The second precipitating event occurs when another resident, eight-year-old Tet (yes, he's named after the well-known Vietnam offensive), learns his communist parents, Anna and Lasse, are breaking up. Anna, having decided that she's basically a lesbian, has left Lasse, who is understandably upset, what with the two of them remaining under the same roof and her trying to come on to whatever other women drift into their sphere -- including, of course, Elisabeth.
In fact, Lasse is bummed that Goran's girlfriend, Lena (Anja Lundqvist), decides to cheer him up by sleeping with him, after first getting Goran's "permission" to do so. In turn, this frustrates Klas (Shanti Roney), the gay roommate who is lusting after Lasse.
On one level, Together is a countercultural soap opera, though played more as bittersweet comedy than as drama. Occasionally, the characters' behavior seems exaggerated. But even so, the movie is more accurate culturally than politically.
If there is a central difference between the mid-'70s Swedish movement and its earlier American equivalent, it's that the American counterculture was held together by one overriding issue -- the war in Vietnam. While Moodysson has said that the Swedish communal experience was a few years behind the American version, he in fact sets the film at a time when things would have been increasingly similar -- six months after the fall of Saigon. Without the shadow of that overwhelming event, the differences among all the disparate elements that made up the American counterculture suddenly became more important than the similarities. To oversimplify, the result was that funk gave way to disco and social ideals to the Me Decade. In a benevolent way, Together shows how the roots for those sorts of transformations were always in place.