Swedish writer-director Lukas Moodysson’s debut feature film, 1998‘s Fucking Amal (re-titled Show Me Love for its American release), centered on two teenage girls’ blossoming romance, the first love for both, as they struggled to overcome adolescent ennui and alienation in their dead-end hometown, Amal. (The film‘s original title is a nod to the sneeringly dismissive way they refer to the place.) What made the movie remarkable was Moodysson’s delicate, confident balance of the town‘s oppressive blandness against the girls’ roiling inner lives — he used each to illuminate and deepen the other for a smart, funny coming-of-age film that sidestepped the usual genre traps.
Together, Moodysson‘s shrewd, even more insightful sophomore effort, takes place on a commune in Stockholm, 1975. It’s also a coming-of-age story, and not just for the children, among them Eva (Emma Samuelsson), a mousy 13-year-old ABBA lover whose insecurities are etched on her face, and her 10-year-old brother, Stefan (Sam Kessel), with a dark, foreboding scowl and a heartbreaking smile. And then there‘s 8-year-old Tet (Axel Zuber), named after the Tet Offensive and whose favorite game is ”Pinochet,“ wherein he pretends to torture his playmates, then flips the script and plays victim. The adults in the house have a similar predilection for inflicting and receiving pain, only their weapons — personal history, sexual desire, emotions — are decidedly real. The fascist and martyr roles they assume are only slightly less childish, but no less amusing, than those imagined by Tet.
Moodysson’s movie, one part mash note and three parts scathing piss-taker, is hugely compassionate toward the well-meaning fools in his tale, but he doesn‘t suffer their nonsense gladly; his film is, in large part, about grown-ups needing to grow up. When Elisabeth (Lisa Lindgren) packs up Eva and Stefan after their drunken father hits her, she moves into a collective called Tillsammans (”Together“), where her younger brother, Goran (Gustaf Hammarsten), is the resident doormat and safety net. It’s a household in which the insidious capitalist propaganda of the Pippi Longstocking stories is seriously debated over tea while mumbled distinctions between ”surplus value“ and ”profit“ are attempts at foreplay. The world outside is no less mediated. Across the street from the commune, a chubby 14-year-old boy spies Eva through binoculars and develops a crush (later, the two bond by comparing eyeglass prescriptions). Meanwhile, every night his mother clacks her knitting needles like castanets in sexual frustration as her oblivious husband steps over her to do his ”woodwork“ in the basement.
Although Moodysson is lampooning the dogma and self-righteousness of the hippie movement, he‘s not doing the typical eitheror mambo of traditional family values vs. revolution now! Together deftly makes the point that when ideology or convention is maintained simply for its own sake, whether from a progressive or a conservative standpoint, it crushes the spirit — whether that of the pinched suburban housewife who sits in judgment of everyone while her own loneliness eats away at her, or that of Goran, who, in trying to be cool and ”open-minded,“ listens to his girlfriend fuck the Marxist twit in the next room, then smiles painfully as she gushes about the comrade bringing her to her first orgasm.
Both Goran and the housewife, like almost everyone in the film, long for connection but are stranded in silence, following dictates that don’t serve them. The counterculture of the late 1960s and early ‘70s is the film’s hook and obvious whipping boy, but Moodysson‘s real target is much larger. He’s after the ways in which we can lock ourselves in systems of belief in order to make sense of the world, or even improve it, only to end up disconnected from ourselves as well as the people around us. The film‘s grace note is one of reconciliation. It’s only when the hardcore ideologues have left the commune, when the wife across the street actually crosses over to meet her neighbors, when Goran discovers his balls and uses them, that the characters reach the nirvana they‘ve been after all along — family, community, togetherness.