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Playing House 

If you were a young middle-class adult in the 1970s, you either did it, thought about doing it or at least knew people who did it. Live in a commune, that is. I fall into the first category. Four of us lived together for a while in the mid-1970s when Lancer's Rose was considered a fancy bottle of wine and Chevy Chase was thought to be the funniest man on earth. We shared expenses, rotated responsibilities for meal preparation and house cleaning and congratulated ourselves late into the night on how our lifestyle was changing the world. Eventually, as our little commune dissolved in a round-robin of disappointment, resentment and acrimony, we all helped rid one another of grand but immature illusions.

Images of my hippie youth came roaring back when I watched writer/director Lukas Moodysson's Together, a film about that '70s time of idealism and absent good sense as it manifested itself in living arrangements. Turns out, communal living experiments were rampant throughout Western society. For though Together's characters seem to possess every cultural artifact and intellectual pretension that those of us living in California did, this is a picture set in the suburbs of 1975 Stockholm. Sweden or America, there are posters of Che Guevara on the wall and ABBA on the radio.

The characters in Together are many, diverse, complicated and clueless. Goran (Gustav Hammarsten) is the patriarch of a house its residents call Together and speak of with a reverence they yearn to feel but really don't. Goran is big, bearded and gentle as a teddy bear. If he spoke any more softly he'd whisper. Goran shares his bedroom with Lena (Anja Lundqvist), and he's devoted to her, but given that everyone at Together believes in the ideal of free love, Lena is not obligated to devote back. In fact, though she deems her urgings purely physical, she's kind of interested in Erik (Olle Sarri), a banker's son working as a welder and sneering with disdain for anyone employed at some profession other than good old-fashioned manual labor. Erik's earnest devotion to "the revolution" will remind viewers of Tom Courtenay's character in Dr. Zhivago -- only without the humor. Together also houses a couple of unsmiling communitarian purists who soon relocate to Mother Earth, a more devout commune; Klas (Shanti Roney) a desperately lonely gay man; and an estranged couple, Lasse (Ola Norell) and Anna (Jessica Liedberg) and their kids Tet (named for the offensive) and Moon.

From the get-go Together recalls Yeats' lines from "The Second Coming": "Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;/Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world." The week that it's her house duty, Anna decides that washing the dishes is "bourgeois," the deadliest derogation a communitarian can pronounce about anything or anybody. Anna also decides that wearing anything below her waist is a restraint on her freedom of expression, so she limits her attire to T-shirts and flip-flops. Sounds sexy but most certainly isn't.

This behavior so infuriates Lasse that he drops his pants to shame her. She's isn't shamed, which enrages Lasse even more. Eventually Lasse has an affair with Klas, though we aren't sure if this means he will go to any lengths to irritate Anna or that he's actually gay, or if it merely proves that men will have sex with anything. Lena, meanwhile, finally convinces Erik to give her a tumble, but only if she'll consent afterwards to a discussion of the evils of capitalism.

Everything gets more crowded and fraught with disharmony when Goran's sister Elizabeth (Lisa Lindgren) moves in with her two children after fleeing her abusive husband, Rolf (Michael Nyqvist). Elizabeth won't go so far as marching about naked from the waist down, but she does stop shaving her legs and armpits. The sacrifices required to bring power to the people. Elsewhere about the house, everybody practices as much hypocritical self-righteousness as one might find anywhere outside the church office of Jerry Falwell. Vegetarian only. No TV. The children can't have Christmas presents. And though the adults wouldn't think to deny themselves beer and wine, the kids aren't allowed to have candy and soft drinks. My favorite passage arrives when, following the example of their sloganeering parents, the children stage a demonstration march for hot dogs.

In short, Together is riotously funny. The youthful follies of my generation are skewered and barbecued exactly as they deserve. And all at once Moodysson accomplishes this roasting without making his own artistic vision either dismissive or condescending. On the contrary, he shows great affection for these characters, and even as he makes us laugh at their misguided nonsense he makes us care about them a great deal. He makes us recognize that, like generations before them and since, they are seekers, attempting, however foolishly, to make a better world.

click to enlarge Rolf (Michael Nyqvist) tries to convince wife, Elizabeth (Lisa Lindgren), to come home from her brother's commune in the hilarious comedy Together.
  • Rolf (Michael Nyqvist) tries to convince wife, Elizabeth (Lisa Lindgren), to come home from her brother's commune in the hilarious comedy Together.
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