If you placed a bunch of cantankerous, sensually hungry adults in the same modest wood-frame house, then asked them to share meals, confessions, artificial stimulants, maybe even lovers, it’s not unreasonable to assume that they might end up, sooner or later, at the vicinity of each other’s throats. Yet for a decade or so, beginning in the mid-1960s, a great many people became spellbound by the brave delusion that this sort of Marxist domestic living arrangement was the closest you could get to utopia on earth. What it looked like, in fact, was the good old middle class gone to very scruffy seed.
The enchanting new Swedish movie Together is set on a slovenly suburban commune in Stockholm in 1975, and part of the film’s delight — at least for American audiences — is that it could just as well be taking place in Berkeley or Ann Arbor or Cambridge. The characters include the bearded, painfully gentle house organizer (Gustaf Hammarsten), who has so repressed his masculine aggression that he’s practically imploding; a banker’s son (Olle Sarri) who thinks that he’s a revolutionary; a lesbian (Jessica Liedberg) who has given up men because it’s the ideologically chic thing to do; and a child named Tet (after the Offensive, of course). Their colony is called Together, but the only thing these people can even begin to agree on is their dregs-of-the-counterculture ”ideals.” Their day-to-day personalities are locked in a permanent ego skirmish, which is why the commune’s trappings — the painted Volkswagen van, the kitchen-table debates over whether Pippi Longstocking is politically correct — feel like curios from some rusty hope chest of lost radical dreams.
It might all seem sad, or a bit of a joke, if Lukas Moodysson, the writer-director of ”Together,” didn’t bathe everyone on screen in a grainy humanist glow worthy of Robert Altman at his most embracing. This is the rare movie that gets you to fall in love with characters you don’t even like. In ”Together,” the spirit of the ’60s is undermined by the very bourgeois values — ownership, the commodification of pleasure — it was meant to sweep aside, and there’s a luscious comedy in the way that those values seep back into the commune. Some truths, it seems, just can’t be denied: It’s fun to watch television and eat things that aren’t organic vegetables. It’s not so much fun to share your girlfriend with your most obnoxious housemate.
Yet Moodysson’s vision flows both ways. The sister of one of the commune members is a housewife (Lisa Lindgren) who ditches her angry, boozing husband (Michael Nyqvist) and moves into the house along with her two kids. These are people who never got sucked into the lazy openness of the hippie lifestyle, and now, in spite of themselves, it touches them; it’s just what they need to heal. In ”Together,” the square and the free rub up against each other, but they only pretend to clash. By the end, with the sublime image of a soccer game in the snow (set to the wistful rapture of ABBA’s ”S.O.S.”), they arrive at an accommodation, and the people in the commune, for the first time, really do come together. It’s the single most moving moment I’ve seen in any film this year.