aka Tillsammans

Sweden/Denmark/Italy, 2000. Rated R. 106 minutes.

Cast: Lisa Lindgren, Michael Nyqvist, Gustav Hammarsten, Emma Samuelsson, Sam Kessel, Anja Lundkvist, Jessica Liedberg, Ola Norell, Axel Zuber, Shanti Roney, Olle Sarri, Cecilia Frode, Lars Frode, Henrik Lundström, Emil Moodysson, Thérèse Brunnander, Claes Hartelius, Sten Ljunggren
Writer: Lukas Moodysson
Cinematographer: Ulf Brantås
Producer: Lars Jönsson
Director: Lukas Moodysson


Grade: A- Review by Carlo Cavagna

With so much counterfeit emotionality in movies, few writers and directors seem to understand that real warmth and beauty can be found not in outrageously contrived premises like those of Sweet November, Angel Eyes, or The Family Man, but in the everyday lives of ordinary people. "Wait," you might well object, "how can you have moving romance without an opera-singing, mandolin-playing Italian captain? How can you have inspiring drama without Meryl Streep or Diane Keaton dying of a terminal illness? How can you have heartwarming comedy without Jim Carrey making fart jokes? And how can you have all these things in the same movie? How?" Writer/director Lukas Moodysson could teach a course on how.

In his superb feature-film debut, Show Me Love, Moodysson took us into the life of an awkward teenage girl struggling with her homosexuality and her longing for the most popular girl in school. It's the sort of debut filmmakers dream of. Movie studios are always selling movies that make us laugh and cry, but Show Me Love actually did it, with naked home-movie realism, a light touch, a nonjudgmental eye, and such compassion and understanding that we had to wonder if Lukas Moodysson was not a lesbian teenage girl himself.
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But no, Moodysson is a grown man, and for his sophomore effort, he has chosen to follow life in a Stockholm commune, circa 1975, called "Tillsammans" (i.e., "Together"). Tillsammans is a run-down suburban home with nine people crammed into it. It is run by conflict-averse Goran (Gustav Hammarsten), who, as the film opens, is rescuing his sister Elisabeth (Lisa Lindgren) from her abusive husband Rolf (Michael Nyqvist) by bringing her and her children, unhappy Eva (Emma Samuelsson) and angry Stefan (Sam Kessel), to stay at Tillsammans. This ups the population to a whopping twelve. A vastly different world from that of a traditional suburban housewife awaits Elisabeth--a world of casual attitudes toward nudity, sex, and drug use, but intense attitudes toward politics, the presence of television sets, and the schedule of chores. Tillsammans is a commune that's "together" in name only.

Beyond that, outlining the plot of a slice-of-life film such as Together is a pointless exercise, as it not only spoils the movie's surprises, but also makes the story seem so much less than it really is. Suffice it to say, as Elisabeth and her children make the difficult adjustment to commune living, Moodysson delves into the residents' humble conflicts, dramas, and relationships, including those of the children, while also tracking Rolf's efforts to get his life straightened out. poster featuring Nyqvist and LindgrenNo outcome is assured; no event is telegraphed in advance. Moodysson's story constantly delights and surprises, finding laughter and pain at unexpected moments.

It's so easy to believe that Together is an accurate portrayal of commune life, not because Moodysson has necessarily set out to make an accurate portrayal of commune life. We get the distinct impression that that's not his primary concern. Rather, Tillsammans feels like a real commune because Moodysson has filled it with genuine, distinct personalities whose only common denominator is a leftist socio-political perspective. It's as if, in order to realize communal life, Moodysson has simply imagined twelve real people in a house together. Whatever happens as a result of their personalities and interactions--well, then, you can almost hear him reasoning, that must be what communal life is like. This goes to an important principle of storytelling: if you can believe the characters, then you can believe everything else.

Although less emotionally moving than Show Me Love (a movie in which you actively root for the two protagonists to get together) but shot in a similar low-budget home-movie style, Together is a work of greater sophistication and complexity. Instead of only teenagers, Moodysson examines people of varied age groups, lifestyles, and backgrounds with equal assurance and sympathy. He unerringly finds the humanity in each character, thus making you care about the people, even those who aren't all that likable.

Some small pacing problems stemming from the integration of Rolf's story with the rest of the narrative do mar the film, as does Moodysson's failure to deal fully with the difficulty of alcoholism recovery. These are complaints barely worth mentioning, though, when the whole is so strong. The counterfeit emotionality dominating the multiplexes will relegate Together's theatrical run in the United States to art-house theaters in large metropolitan areas, but it is well worth seeking out.

Review © September 2001 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2001 IFC Films. All Rights Reserved.

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