Friday, March 09, 2012

Movies You May Have Missed - Together (Tillsammans) (2000)

Looking for a Swedish film about a leftist commune set in the Stockholm suburbs in 1975 where ideology, family and cultural boundaries swirl and clash amidst a stellar ensemble cast in an earth-toned world of bittersweet yearning for human connection? Lukas Moodysson's Together (Tillsammans) recreates a lost time when people tried to bust out of their set cultural roles and build an utopian ideal with minimal squabbling and strife. Of course, the inability to get along with people in close quarters is pretty much a given, but that doesn't stop idealists from trying. And that's subtle comedy gold in this 2000 comedy-drama.

Together could have gone in several satirical directions, but it plays it straight with unflashy camera and flat lighting—giving the commune setting a muted, old-photo look. Occasional whip-pans and blatant zooms zero in to show the true feelings on the faces of its cast, even as they spout politically correct rhetoric, or try to act cool during heated situations. The conceit of Together is how messed up and apart its characters are and how that will play out throughout its meandering storyline. It's a true 70s vision and surprisingly sweet-natured for those unfamiliar with Moodysson's award-winning first feature, Show Me Love (originally titled Fucking Åmål—about the relationship between two teenage girls in the small town of Åmål).

Moodysson is a director who uses his camera in subtle ways to define alienation and connectedness. We are dumped into a family crisis in the opening scene. Elisabeth (Lisa Lindgren) is leaving her alcoholic brute of a husband, Rolf (Michael Nyqvist), and taking their children, Eva and Stefan, to her brother Göran's commune after Rolf has beaten her. Göran (Gustaf Hammarsten) is a gentle soul, living amongst malcontents.

It's 1975 in Sweden and ABBA's "SOS" is called for
His young girlfriend Lena (Anja Lundkvist) pushes him for an open relationship so she can bed the obsessed Marxist Erik (Olle Sarri).  Passive-aggressive fallout ensues. Separated couple Lasse (Ola Rapace) and Anna (Jessica Liedberg) continue to live in the house to be close to their small son, Tet, who sneaks sips of wine when no one is looking, which is often. They are constantly bickering due to Anna's politically motivated decision to become a lesbian. Lasse takes his bitterness out on the more ideological members of the household, while housemate Klas (Shanti Roney) pines for him from across the living room while sitting at his weaving loom. A grim-faced couple, Signe and Sigvard, watch from the sidelines, becoming more alienated from the group over decisions involving veganism, over-crowding, and the purchase of a forbidden television set.

Elisabeth flees her modern apartment—a grid of geometric separateness
The Together commune—rambling, overgrown beacon of hope...?
Elisabeth and her children are elements of change to this household in disarray and Moodysson conveys gentle irony to show how rigid rules and regulations as well as a lack of boundaries can do more harm than good. Elisabeth's children are initially friendless and miserable; Eva is introverted and Stefan is shunned for being bad at sports. Both are completely at odds with their new setup, Eva's room is a storage closet and Stefan can't abide with meatless meals and rules disallowing plastic toys in the house. Soon the equally friendless misfit boy from the uptight household next door is making overtures toward Eva. And Tet is delighted to be allowed to play with Stefan's forbidden war toys, inventing a game of "torture" involving pretend Pinochet and pretend explosives. Plastic guns and army men are the conduits to new-found childhood joy.

In a film with multitudes of closeup head shots, the camera eventually moves back for two-shots and group-shots within a single frame, as characters bond over shared experiences.

A rare group shot and bonding moment
We wonder how all these relationships will play out. Will Anna succeed in seducing Elisabeth while instructing her on the feminist principles of not shaving her armpits? Will Lasse stop bashfully pushing Klas away? Will Stefan be allowed to play with a Lego set not made of wood? Will Erik ever not be grimly political? Is television evil or can it soothe the troubled soul when reality gets to be too much? What are the healing aspects of an impromptu backyard soccer game?

Neighbors, soul mates
Stefan doesn't have to be good at soccer because nobody is
Who would like this film: 
-Europeans and the European-ish.
-Fans of ABBA who thought Mama Mia too cloying.
-People who acknowledge emotions, including genuine pathos and momentary joy.
-Jean Renoir film fans.
-Anyone who grew up in the 70s and lived to tell the tale. This includes my brother who would probably enjoy this if I bribed him a big bowl of popcorn.

Who would not like this film:
-Connoisseurs of the slick and the shallow.
-Subtitle haters.
-The uptight.
-Genre-film fans unwilling to branch out a bit.

1 comment:

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