Old Rope has watched his share of lockdown appropriate films during the corona pandemic. You know the sort: Bill Murray living the same day over and over in Groundhog Day; or the endless self-sufficiency of Matt Damon largely ignoring the boss’s instructions via Zoom in The Martian. Though there can be some comfort in watching the sort of stuff a self-isolator like me can relate to (I’ve pretty much started to grow potatoes in my own poo too) it’s also handy to remind oneself that days used to be different and human connection isn’t just a half-remembered dream.
To that end I finally got to watching Tillsammans (Together), which is basically the exact opposite of social distancing. Released in 2000 but set in 1975, Swedish director Lukas Moodysson’s second film is a light-hearted drama about a Stockholm ‘sharehome’.
After yet another incident of domestic abuse, Elizabeth leaves her husband Rolf and takes her children to live with her kindly brother Göran. The catch is that he lives in a commune with a ragtag bunch of left-wing ‘free thinkers’. It’s textbook fish out of water stuff as the family struggle to adapt to the atypical lifestyle of the group, while the fragile alliance of hippies, anarchists, Lenninists and the sexually experimental feels the strain and new faultlines rupture throughout the household. These people are living, almost literally in some cases, on top of each other.
Elizabeth’s kids Eva and Stefan, already dealing with the regular issues that come with parental separation (mean school kids, acting up, mixed feelings about dad), have the added challenge of sleeping in a glorified cupboard and being surround by bonkers people who seem to wilfully reject the conventional.
There’s Lena, who wants to sleep with everyone bar her boyfriend Göran; Anja whose newfound lesbianism grates on her ex Lasse; their young son Tet (yup, he was named after the offensive by the Viet Cong) who wants to play ‘Pinochet’ with a baffled Stefan; lovelorn Klas who sees his homosexuality as a barrier to companionship and is pining for Lasse; ardent Marxist Erik who is desperate to talk surplus value with absolutely anyone; and the no-compromise family of Signe, Sigvard and Moon, unswerving in their critique of materialist Pippi Longstocking.
That’s not to mention the burgeoning friendship between the broken Rolf and lonely neighbour Birger, who’ll even bust his bathroom’s plumbing if it means he’ll have company. The hapless Göran, who wouldn’t say boo to a goose, tries his best to please everyone and seems to be on a hiding to nothing.
With such a large cast of characters, and so many messy, shifting relationships the whole thing could threaten to become muddy and impenetrable. Yet Moodysson manages to steer us through the complex emotional jungle of all these people sharing the same space, together whether they like it or not, towards something that is genuinely moving if not profound. Despite the exaggerated setting and the by now familiar early Noughties fake-documentary stolen-moments shooting style, the film feels more like a marvellously rendered and elaborate character study. Through their (in some cases enforced) communality, these people are able to reconsider their beliefs and behaviours, to confront their fears and flaws and to find opportunity in personal crisis.
Above all – and without wishing to let slip any spoilers – the film flooded me with feelings of optimism and faith in humanity. I know it sounds hacky but at a time of intense isolation it reminded me of what’s possible when different people come together. As Dannish Inquisition, who recommended the film to me, said on a Zoom call the other day, “That’s what gives life meaning, basically, isn’t it? Other people.”
“You could say that we are like porridge. First we’re like small oat flakes – small, dry, fragile, alone. But then we’re cooked with the other oat flakes and become soft. We join so that one flake can’t be told apart from another. We’re almost dissolved. Together we become a big porridge that’s warm, tasty, and nutritious and yes, quite beautiful, too. So we are no longer small and isolated but we have become warm, soft, and joined together. Part of something bigger than ourselves. Sometimes life feels like an enormous porridge, don’t you think? Sorry, I’m standing around dreaming.” – Göran
Tillsammans is currently in YouTube, though that might change.