Hippie Together

A review of the Swedish film 'Together'

From the ridiculous, impromptu celebration of Franco's death that opens the film to its final triumphant moments of a friendly soccer game between all manner of disparate types, Together is just about as finely drawn a portrait of the failed Hippie Dream as you'll find on screen. The action in this mostly non-action-oriented film takes place in a commune outside of Stockholm in the mid '70s, where writer-director Lukas Moodysson invests the proceedings with the same delicately nuanced but all-embracing humanism that graced his previous effort, the Nordic coming-of-ager Show Me Love. As with Moodysson's earlier film, Together is that rare movie where we find ourselves inexplicably rooting for absolutely everyone, including those characters we might normally find annoying or even flat-out unlikable.

There's a wonderful visual metaphor-as-gag in the middle of Together where the utopian ideal of humans living communally is likened to a bowl of porridge — a dish that starts out as dry, individual flakes that eventually blend into what is described as a tasty, nutritious mass. In reality (and on screen, where it really counts) the finished product looks bland, lumpy and utterly unappealing — which is exactly Moodysson's point. The individual components may not be perfect, be they human or oat, but the fused whole is often even messier.

The porridge theory is the brainchild of the commune's unofficial household head, Goran (Gustaf Hammarstein) a preposterously passive idealist so eager to please everyone that, as one character notes, he's "in danger of splitting in two." The group's other members include the uptight, would-be revolutionary son of a banker; a bickering ex-couple; a woman whose sense of political correctness apparently dictated her decision to become a lesbian; and a gaggle of kids with names like Tet (after the Offensive). Into this volatile mix of peaceniks comes Goran's sister, Elisabeth (Lisa Lindgren) — a suburban housewife running away from an abusive drunk of a husband.

The film is a pure joy as it sits back and simply lets its characters reveal themselves. Wonderfully absurd ideological discussions take place over dinner as to whether washing dishes is a bourgeois activity and Pippi Longstocking is a capitalist. The runaway housewife, under the tutelage of her housemates, learns to meditate and comes to equate not shaving her armpits with being a Socialist. Goran's wife pursues the group's commitment to "open relationships" by noisily making love to other commune members while her husband tosses and turns in the room next door.

In the middle of it all are the kids, who think (correctly) that the adults are all idiots, and who are much like kids anywhere and in any time — other than the fact that an argument is likely to end with one youngster calling the other a Fascist. It's the children who initiate many of the major transformations that take place during Together — including an organized protest that leads to the acquisition of a forbidden TV and hot dogs — and, by the end, almost all of the commune members are changing a lot more than just sexual partners.

Moodysson films everything with a handheld, aggressively intimate camera (complete with overactive zoom lens). He sets it all to a perfectly chosen Abba soundtrack and frames the whole thing with a thoroughly odd but endearing love of life that wouldn't be out of place in a film by Mike Leigh or even Jean Renoir, just to drop a couple of the very best names around. Damn the Merchant-Ivorys and full-speed backwards, Together is the sort of period piece that gives period pieces a good name.

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