Sunday, June 23, 2013

Together (Tillsammans)

Lukas Moodysson on the set of Together (2000)

TOGETHER (Tillsammans)        C+                
Sweden  Denmark  Italy  (106 mi)  2000  d:  Lukas Moodysson

Where are those happy days, they seem so hard to find
I tried to reach for you, but you have closed your mind
Whatever happened to our love?
I wish I understood
It used to be so nice, it used to be so good.
—Abba, “S.O.S.” (1975) Abba - S.O.S - YouTube  (3:32)

There's strength in being alone, that's just bullshit. Only thing worth anything is being together.  
—Birger (Sten Ljunggren)

Living in a collective doesn’t mean you have to reject everything.  
—Elisabeth (Lisa Lindgren)

We draw the line at Coca-Cola. We don't support multinational pigs.         
—Lasse (Ala Rapace)

Not so much a 60’s as a 70’s film, revealing the pathetic unravelings of the revolution, circa Stockholm, 1975, in a small leftist commune where a group of twentysomethings continue to hold onto their political ideals, but for whatever reason, life keeps getting in the way.  While it’s a series of mini-tragedies, Moodysson douses the film with plenty of dark comedy, where his singularly best choice is observing the world through the eyes of the collective’s children.  While the film is stylistically observant, using fades to a blank red screen, it’s overly predictable and never really addresses the social issues, which are only superficially used to tie together a movie about marital discord.  The children’s story is far more interesting, though Moodysson instead satirizes the misguided yearnings and foibles of adults.  The film opens with a marriage on the rocks, where Rolf, a young Michael Nyqvist from THE MILLENNIUM TRILOGY (2009), is a drunken lout of a husband that crosses the line into physical abuse, causing his wife Elisabeth (Lisa Lindgren) to gather up her two young children aged 13 and 10, Eva and Stefan (Emma Samuelsson and Sam Kessel), and head for the home of her brother Göran (Gustaf Hammarsten) in an already crowded communal house called Tillsammans (Swedish for “Together”), spied upon by the neighbors next door who can’t believe how many people can fit into one house.  Neither child has any friends at school and are already outcasts, but this only makes their prospects more dismal, especially being driven around in an old, dilapidated, hand-painted VW bus, a relic from a 60’s hippie era that has long since past being cool with young kids, feeling more like an embarrassment.  And therein lies one of the themes of the film, as adults often behave like idiots, where this film written by the director continues to poke fun at the foolishness of middle class youths pretending to be working class heroes by taking a stand against coca cola, becoming vegetarians, abolishing Christmas, refusing to own a TV, having open sexual relationships within the commune, carrying on a Marxist driven dialectic even as they are children of wealth, where the wealthiest one among them is attempting a blue collar job as a welder, and failing miserably.  It’s a bit like Fassbinder’s THE THIRD GENERATION (1979), but less overtly political, not nearly as devastating a critique of the radical left, and more of a series of satirical vignettes showing just how out of touch this group is with their own feelings, their children, and the changing world around them.    

Throughout the film there is incessant squabbling and sarcastic in-fighting between collective members, surrounded by posters of Che, Emma Goldman, the 1936 Berlin Olympics, and Mao, arguing whether doing the dishes is bourgeois, each one ridiculing the phony left-leaning sentiment of the other, where Lasse (Ala Rapace) claims his separated wife Anna (Jessica Liedberg) has become a lesbian by choice for political reasons, where her meditation sessions are really rather feeble attempts to hit on other women.  Denouncing men in general, Ana is the likely person to befriend Elisabeth, where the two commiserate over the evils of overcontrolling male dominance while drinking plenty of wine, getting giddy after awhile, playing music and dancing well after the kids have gone to sleep, showing little consideration for anyone else, thinking this is all part of the healing process, recovering from the inherent subjugation of women.  Elisabeth’s brother Göran may be the one most concerned with getting along with everyone, incessantly avoiding conflict, but his girlfriend Lena (Anja Lundqvist) couldn’t be more sexually promiscuous, taking advantage of Göran’s passivity while sexually stalking other members of the male species like the collective’s nymphomaniac, targeting Erik (Olle Sarri), who may be the youngest and in her eyes the cutest member, but also the most radically outspoken, as despite coming from a family of wealth where his father is a banker, Erik is an unashamed, old-school Communist that believes in meetings, strikes, demonstrations, leftist newspapers, and carrying on the Marxist rhetoric whenever and wherever, where his idea of sexual foreplay is having a Marxist discussion analyzing the ill-effects of capitalism, agreeing to have sex with Lena only if they’ll have a conversation on economics afterwards.  When she, of course, has sex but then reneges on the deal, he calls her a lying hypocrite and wants nothing more to do with her.  His leftist zeal is amusing, especially when he attempts to radicalize a lone sentry standing outside some important government building.  But when he eventually moves out, thoroughly disgusted at the collective’s lack of leftist willpower, Lena cries for days afterwards, calling so much attention to herself that even Göran gets fed up.  But when Lasse and Göran bring home a used TV for the kids, one of the other couples moves out as well, claiming that’s a complete sellout. 

Part of the developing story also includes the abandoned and isolated lives of kids, where the adults are so wrapped up in their own problems the kids are largely left to fend for themselves, where Eva ends up sitting in the VW van all hours of the day and night just to get away from the arguing and idiotic behavior of the adults inside whose politics she finds stupid.  It’s here she meets the kid next door, Frederik (Henrik Lundström), equally friendless, from a similarly dysfunctional family, where both are shy introverts that are at least nice to one another.  Stefan, on the other hand, pulls out his legos toys, where Tet, Ana and Lasse’s son, can’t believe they’re the real thing, as his dad promised to make wooden legos but pathetically only finished two pieces.  It’s ironic that a kid named Tet, after the Tet Offensive, is not allowed to play with war toys, but the kids instead play Pinochet electric shock torture games.  Stefan readily misses his Dad, who on the side is attempting to rehabilitate his life, but failing miserably.  In contrast to the turbulent world of the very publicly out front collective, Rolf’s struggle is more internal, where working as a plumber, after finishing a repair, one of his customers offers him a beer, Birger (Sten Ljunggren), that results in an extended drinking session where we learn Birger is now an old man that once drove his wife away and longed for freedom and his own anticipated sense of independence, but discovered that “loneliness is the most horrible thing in the world.”  With Rolf and Birger struggling with their self-inflicted misery, the collective is also disintegrating before our eyes, as personal interests trump the collective spirit, a utopian principle only half-heartedly adhered to anyway, where the ideas fade sort of like LP records giving way to the 8-track, cassettes, CD’s, and now MP3’s.  Nonetheless, it’s the collective’s hold on Elisabeth as a place of refuge that may as well be the Berlin Wall to Rolf, as he can’t get through to the other side.  With the help and encouragement of Birger, who wants to make sure Rolf doesn’t end up like he did, the finale is easily the best part of the film, where Elisabeth’s favorite song comes into play, Nazareth’s “Love Hurts” nazareth love hurts (1976) YouTube (3:32), emblematic of the couple’s own tortuous ordeal, but after a bellyful of unending pessimism, the snowy finale to the upbeat music of Abba, which bookends the film, adds an unforeseen sense of optimism and hope.  

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