Together is a bittersweet look at life in a '70s commune ... in Sweden!

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Together is a bittersweet look at life in a '70s commune ... in Sweden!

Together is the second feature from Swedish director Lukas Moodysson, whose 1998 Fucking Amal was released here 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.

The cast contains no faces familiar to American audiences, so 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 thirtyish guy who somehow manages to mediate and calm the commune's often clashing personalities, who represent a mishmash of assorted countercultural tendencies -- communist revolutionaries, feminists, vegetarians ... essentially anything that could be considered in opposition to any single aspect of the dominant culture.

Goran's more conventional sister, Elisabeth (Lisa Lindgren), leaves her drunken, abusive husband, Rolf (Michael Nyqvist); as an unemployed housewife, she has nowhere else to go, so Goran, without much consultation with his housemates, invites her and her two children, ten-year-old Stefan (Sam Kessel) and thirteen-year-old Eva (Emma Samuelsson), to "temporarily" stay at the house.

That Goran and his housemates are already short of space is merely one problem. Eva -- studious, bespectacled and in the first flush of adolescence -- is at exactly the age where she might be brooding and withdrawn even without her family falling apart around her. Stefan is less aware, but the commune's culture -- as personified by Tet (Axel Zuber), an eight-year-old named after the well-known Vietnam offensive -- is nonetheless bewildering to him.

Tet's parents break up. The two communards -- Lasse (Ola Norell) and Anna (Jessica Liedberg) -- find that their "enlightened" marriage has proved no more stable than that of the stolidly middle-class Rolf and Elisabeth. Anna, having decided that she's a lesbian, has left Lasse -- who is understandably upset at remaining under the same roof with a wife who is coming on to whatever women drift into their sphere, including, of course, Elisabeth.

In fact, Lasse is so bummed that Goran's girlfriend, Lena (Anja Lundqvist), decides to cheer him up by sleeping with him -- first getting Goran's permission. This in turn frustrates Klas (Shanti Roney, looking like Crispin Glover), 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. The serious political aspects of the period are reduced to a series of jokes -- "Let's play Pinochet torture games!" Tet tells Stefan -- and it's no accident that the least delineated character is the group's one communist (Olle Sarri), who is -- of course -- the son of a banker.

Moodysson makes it clear that the gap between the protagonists and the character representing everything they are reacting against isn't all that great. Rolf, the abusive lout, isn't so different from the promiscuous, irresponsible Lena; and even the disapproving neighbors are susceptible to the same kinds of good and bad behavior that make the main characters a mix of the reprehensible and the essentially likable.

If there is a central difference between the mid-'70s Swedish movement depicted here and its earlier American equivalent, it's that the American counterculture was held together by one urgent, overriding issue -- the war in Vietnam. While Moodysson has said that the Swedish communal experience was running 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 marked the effective end of the Vietnam War. Without the shadow of that overwhelming event, the differences among the disparate elements of the American counterculture suddenly became more important than the similarities.

To oversimplify, the result was that funk gave way to disco, social ideals collapsed under the Me Decade and Jerry Rubin became a businessman. In a benevolent way, Together shows how the roots for such transformations were always in place.

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