starring Lisa Lindgren, Michael Nyqvist, Emma Samuelsson, Sam Kessel
written and directed by Lukas Moodysson
by Walter Chaw A cross between Lars von Trier's The Idiots and an irritating home video made by flower children, Swedish phenom Lukas Moodysson's Together (Tillsammans) is an aggressively affable, ultimately simplistic film that displays almost nothing in the way of the craft or sensitivity of an Ingmar Bergman, his mentor in spirit and most vocal supporter. It is a film that defies criticism by beating critics to the punch: "These people are unlikable hypocritical idiots? My point exactly," says Moodysson. "It's filmed with almost no knowledge of even the basics of filmmaking? What better way to show the rawness of real life?" But I don't buy it, not when we're eternally two steps ahead of the gutless screenplay and consistently pulled from the drama by the same repetitive series of establishing zooms and shaky framing. Tillsammans looks as bad as any Dogme 95 film.
Elisabeth (Lisa Lindgren), with her two young children Eva (Emma Samuelsson) and Stefan (Sam Kessel) in tow, leaves her drunken and abusive husband Rolf (Michael Nyqvist) and moves into a commune called "Tillsammens," also inhabited by her pacifist brother Goren (Gustav Hammarsten). Unfortunately, on the day of their arrival, the trio walks in on an argument about the merits of airing fungal infections in genital areas conducted by a recently divorced commune couple who are militantly unshy about displaying the crotches in question. As could be expected in any situational drama involving a group of flawed humanity being crushed beneath a utopian ideal, Tillsammans depends upon a series of melodramatic scenarios and their cliffhanger resolutions. Will suddenly-lesbian Anna (Jessica Liedberg) seduce Elisabeth before she can reconcile with her freshly teetotaler husband? Will the insistent homosexual Klas (Shanti Roney) be able to seduce the heterosexual Lasse (Ola Norell)? Will the vacuous slut Lena (Anja Lundkvist) successfully woo thirteen-year-old Fredrik (Henrik Lundstrom) before or after she gets her second orgasm from bitter socialist Erik (Olle Sarri)? Will passive Goren finally snap?
Whether tooling around Stockholm in a brightly-painted VW bus or packing into a small house decorated by outré and mildly embarrassing posters of Che Guevara, Emma Goldman, Chairman Mao, and the Berlin Olympics, the characters of Moodysson's Tillsammans begin the film as unflattering caricatures of pathologically liberal hamsters before revealing themselves as obvious satires of the selfsame beasts. My complaint isn't so much with the performances, which are fine, nor with the idea of skewering hippies for their idealism--no, my complaint with Tillsammans is that its rough humanism is presented in a manner that is neither as affectionate as Jean Renoir's nor as philosophically thorny as Bergman's. It is, in other words, winkingly self-mocking and twee in a way that is less illuminating of the silliness of the human condition than it is an indictment of what is wrong with art that believes itself more clever than it actually is.
If there's a saving grace for Tillsammans it's the trio of performances from its young actors (Samuelsson, Kessel, and Lundstrom). Kids in this and Moodysson's debut film, Fucking Åmål, seem to represent a real honesty and decency at the centre of the young auteur's banal palette--an ideal that translates into a focus on them which glows with a warmth and decency free of the stale pretension that corrupts the rest of his characters. Tillsammans is worth a look if just for the hint of the kind of filmmaker Moodysson could be if only he consistently turned his eye to the integrity of his children and left off trying to impose childishness on his adults. There's a powerful scene in Easy Rider set in a commune where the hippies optimistically sow seeds on a blasted wasteland. I've always believed that there's a fantastic film to be made from this scene: the misguided idealism of dreamers and well-intentioned fools. Tillsammans is just too smug and faux-beneficent to be it. Originally published: September 14, 2001.