“Together” (2000) is set in the idealistic heyday of 1970’s Sweden, where battered house wife Elizabeth (Lisa Lindgren) leaves her alcoholic husband Rolf (Michael Nyqvist) and takes refuge with her children Eva and Stefan in her brother Goran’s (Gustaf Hammarsten) hippie commune, named ‘Together.’ In Sweden, the film attained box-office success and it also did well abroad. Searching for alternatives to nuclear parenting and capitalist society’s growing consumption, the communal living movement flourished during the 1970’s and was particularly popular in Denmark and Sweden. Some critics have accused Moodysson of travestying communal living and affirming conservative values. However, “Together” is not a straightforward satire and looks back at the 1970’s with both nostalgia and distance.
Its style is similar to ‘Dogme 95’ but also works against Dogme in significant ways. Like the Dogme film, “Festen” (“The Celebration”, 1998), it is shot with available light on location in houses rather than in studios. Its music is mostly diegetic: characters put on their favorite records and illustrate their eclectic tastes. As a period drama, the film is, of course, un-Dogme like. The use of fades to red, which close and open segments of the film, emphasizes that this is a bygone era. The color red itself stands for warmth, and is associated with the commune, its warm colors contrasting with the dull browns in the strait-laced neighbor’s house.
Handheld camera is only used in scenes entailing fast action through several rooms. Dogme dissolved the barriers between cast and crew with its stripped-down technical approach and physical intimacy with actors. Moodysson, on the other hand, gives actors space for free expression, allowing them to decide what to do and making the camera follow in John Cassavetes-like fashion; but mostly he places the camera on a tripod, away from the actors, crash zooming into medium close-ups. Any camera manual will tell you not to overuse zooms, since they might be obtrusive. Here, the zoom acknowledges the presence of the audience as distant observers, but without breaking the naturalistic illusion.
We first encounter the communards joyfully hugging each other upon hearing news of the Spanish dictator Franco’s death. They are Goran, Lena (Anja Lundkvist), Lasse (Ola Norell), Lasse’s ex-wife Anna (Jessica Liedberg) and their son Tet, a gay man Klas, Signe and Sigvard and their child Moon, and militant communist, Erik. The character who most champions the commune’s value of togetherness is Goran, who cheers even when the opposing football team scores. In his preachment, he says that we start life alone like little oat flakes, but when we’re cooked we all join together like porridge, no longer as isolated individuals. “Together” nostalgically reaffirms communal values felt to have been lost in the transition from welfare states to market individualism; it brings together nearly all the characters for a joyful football finale.
The film also endorses the idea of solidarity in its narrative construction. There is no central character whose individual viewpoint is definitive. Instead, the film opts for a collective portrait where everyone is given their due; ensembling acting rather than individual star turns. However, the children have a slightly privileged perspective, enabling as to view the commune through their eyes. An argument over washing-up takes a bizarre turn when Lasse notices Anna standing there, exposing her genitals, and proceeds to undo his own trousers. Eva and Stefan arrive just at this moment, setting the tone for their response to their new home. Eva complains to her friend Frederik that people in the commune always take the opposite view from everyone else.
They wear ugly clothes and listen to bad music. They don’t have a TV and they don’t celebrate Christmas. But when the film contrasts the commune with the conservative nuclear family in Frederik’s house, there is really no contest. Frederik parents disapproves of the commune’s free values; yet they both spy on it, and Frederik’s dad Ragnar regularly retires to the basement in order to masturbate under the pretext of ‘woodworking.’
The characters’ roles are not fixed at the outset, but unfold and change in the course of the film. For example, Rolf starts out as drunken, abusive and negligent father but then reforms and stops drinking. What steels his resolve is his encounter with the lonely Birger, who shows Rolf what he might become and persuades him to try to win back Elizabeth. People in the commune change, too. Lasse, relentlessly pursued by Klas, finally lets down his heterosexual barriers and accepts that a man can turn him on. Elizabeth changes throughout her friendship with feminist Anna.
The film moves towards an ideologically progressive ending in which the collective and the family redefine each other. Sick of vegetarianism, the children successfully picket for meat. One might balk at the film’s levity in turning political protest to these ends. However, anti-capitalist principles are kept alive. The commune accepts hot dogs and pork but not Coca-Cola, as Lasse calls them ‘multinational dogs.’ “Together” is the nicely balanced work of an observant film-maker, which sees many side of the human personality that makes people maddening, sympathetic and exciting.