Movie Review: Tillsammans (Together)

"I think that loneliness is the most awful thing in this world."


Tillsammans is a difficult movie to sell people on, because the most accurate brief summary one can give of it is that it's a foreign-language film about life in a swedish commune in the 1970s. Yet it's funny and human and real and very much worth the effort to watch.

The movie is about the residents of a commune, named Tillsammans, and is set in Stockholm in 1975. To start, we have Göran, an amiable pushover who's in an open relationship with Lena, who exploits the relationship's openness far more than Göran would like. The other sort-of couple in the house are Anna and Lasse, who recently divorced when Anna discovered that she was a lesbian. Lasse did not take this very well, but still lives in the house directing vitriol towards Anna and the other residents. Klas, a hapless gay resident, is meanwhile attempting to seduce Lasse. In the middle of this is Anna and Lasse's son, Tet (named after the Tet Offensive in the Vietnam War). The house is also home to Erik, a young Marxist who dropped out of school to work as a welder so that he could be closer to the Proletariat, and Signe and Sigvard, a couple that, possibly due to incautious editing, we don't realize live in the house until the scene where they make a big deal of leaving.

The action kicks off when Göran's sister Elisabeth, a housewife with two children, Eva and Stefan, leaves her abusive husband Rolf and comes to live in Tillsammans. We then watch Elisabeth, Eva, and Stefan slowly assimilate into the commune

The director, Lukas Moodysson, doesn't really do plots. Things at Tillsammans are one way when the movie starts and another way when the movie end, and we get to see the events that transpire between the two points, but it doesn't really have a coherent storyline. Instead we have about a dozen characters who interact with one another, and whom we watch grow and change over the course of the film. Moodysson is great at these very realistic character studies. He extracts very naturalistic performances from his actors, such that we can hardly tell that they're acting at all, yet he gives us a real feel for them.

Tillsammans is helped by its ensemble cast. In the other Moodysson films I've seen, Fucking Åmål and Lilja 4-Ever, he takes much the same character study approach, but because he only focuses on one or two characters they tend to drag. In Tillsammans, there are so many characters that Moodysson manages, as I mentioned above, to lose track of a few of them. Still, it means that there's a lot going on in a film that doesn't have any notable plotting.

Moodysson is particularly insightful in his portrayal of lonely characters. There's a notable tendency in most films to cheat with the lonely; the film will make a great deal about how alone a given character is, then hope you won't notice that the lonely character has been given a passel of friends to serve as the hook for forcing the character out of her shell. Moodysson presents us with lonely characters who literally have no friends, who sit around all day doing nothing, who break their plumbing so that they'll have a chance to have a conversation with the plumber when he comes to fix the pipes.

Yet for all this, Tillsammans is a hopeful movie. We watch people leave the commune, we watch people enter the commune, we watch the commune change in character over the course of the film. Yet through it we see the enduring value of togetherness. The residents of Tilsammans are an odd collection of leftists and revolutionaries, yet they're living healthy, fulfilling lives. They're contrasted with the various neighbors and outsiders, living conventional modern lives, who find themselves isolated and desperate and, above all, alone.

At the same time, the film isn't a utopian paean to the glories of the commune, at least as they existed in the mid-70s in Sweden. The film is willing to show us the disagreements that disrupt the commune, from arguments over dish clean-up to Marxist sermonizing. Moodysson takes a balanced view and argues for the communal ideal of human living, without the specific ideological baggage that often comes with real-life communes.

Tillsammans had a very brief theatrical release in the US in the Fall of 2002. I've been looking for a home video release for years without success, but apparently Universal has just put it out on DVD. I can't recommend it strongly enough.

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This page contains a single entry by Zach published on October 16, 2006 12:47 PM.

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