Together

Directed by Lukas Moodysson

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Together

If Bergman was the mid-century Scandinavian voice of conscience—creating dark, powerful films about the human experience in a world where God seems absent—Lukas Moodysson is his contemporary equivalent (though Moodysson directs with a somewhat lighter touch, focusing more on characters and stories than existential angst). Moodysson’s most accessible film—and a good place to start in understanding the current wave of Scandinavian cinema—is Together (now available on DVD in the US). Set in Stockholm in 1975, it focuses on a ’70s collective of radical socialists and the difficulties of communal life.

Goran and Lena have an open relationship, though Lena is much more interested in sleeping around than Goran. Erik is an irritable and dogmatic young man who’s broken all ties with his family and thinks others should follow his steps. Lasse and his wife Anna have divorced (Anna realized in therapy that she was a lesbian) but both still live in the house with their eight-year-old son, Tet. Yes, they named him after the famous Vietcong offensive. It’s that sort of house.

Into this wonderfully strange collective comes Goran’s sister, Elisabeth, and her two children—13-year-old Eva and 10-year-old Stefan—who are fleeing her abusive husband, Rolf. Though they have no socio-political leanings, they also have nowhere to go; so they take up residence in a place where washing dishes is considered bourgeois but one woman refuses to give up her room after she’s painted it the colors she wanted.

Moodysson perfectly captures the inherent difficulties of communal life. What does it mean to share everything when you still have to have a place of your own to sleep? Is protest by itself a worthwhile endeavor? Is simply embracing the opposite of your capitalist neighbors an effective tactic?

Although the film is deeply interested in the viability of left-wing politics, Together addresses issues nimbly within its fantastically entertaining story. Never reducing his characters to mere ciphers, Moodysson instead treats all of the housemates and even the abusive husband with gentleness and care. The moral center of the movie is Eva (played with exquisite awkwardness by newcomer Emma Samuelsson). As she initially distances herself from her new housemates, she reflects our own bewilderment with this strange world. But as communal life rolls on, she comes out of her shell in a wonderful transformation.

The other characters also change and grow, spurred in part by Stefan and Tet’s growing friendship. When the two discover some illicit “war toys,” they invent the game of “Pinochet and Torture,” providing one of the funniest scenes in recent memory. Later, the boys stage a protest in favor of meat (it’s not allowed in the house), thereby turning upside-down the collective’s ethos.

The film’s set and costume design reminded me that globalization isn’t a recent phenomenon. The hairstyles, clothes and furniture of mid-’70s Sweden mimic my own childhood in blue-collar Michigan. This is just a small instance of how Together reminds us of our common humanity. Despite the many differences in cultures and people, we still have much in common, as the characters in Together slowly realize. As Rolf puts it, “I’d rather eat porridge together than a pork chop alone.”