Hippie house

Together a charming glimpse at Swedish commune life

The turn of phrase "familiarity breeds contempt" comes readily to mind during Together. By gently tweaking commune life in the 1970s, the charming Swedish comedy points out the paradox of togetherness: that people desperately need each other, yet people also drive each other batty.

We become almost instantly familiar with the residents of Tillsammans (Swedish for "together") at first sight. In the opening scene, a bit of unexpected news on the radio gets the entire group cheering in jubilation. Is it a Swedish World Cup victory? A winning lottery ticket? No, it's the death of fascist Francisco Franco.

We don't get much background as to how this particular group of shaggy Stockholm hippies came together, but we recognize their types so quickly that exposition seems beside the point. Exponents of a "sex, socialism and rock 'n' roll" ethos, they've made a yellow suburban house into a kind of leftist Never-Never-Land, gawked at by their suburban neighbors. They even have the requisite VW bus with Summer-of-Love graffiti.

The house's tenuous equilibrium is thrown out of whack when Goran (Gustav Hammarsten), the group's hirsute mother hen, brings in some outsiders. His sister Elisabeth (Lisa Lindgren) and her two children need sanctuary when she walks out on her drunken lout of a husband, Rolf (Michael Nyqvist).

Partly we view the residents of Tillsammens through the eyes of the kids, who are more horrified than titillated at their antics. The new arrivals turn up in the middle of an argument during which former marrieds Lasse (Ola Norell) and Anna (Jessica Liedberg) happen to be wearing no pants. Writer-director Lukas Moodysson finds considerable comedy in how annoyed the kids get at adults who behave childishly.

By their very presence, the kids compromise the commune's ideals, as when some grown-ups buy a — gasp! — television for the youngsters. Later, weary of all-vegetarian meals, two tots stage a placard-waving protest, chanting, "We want meat! We want meat!" Together's most overtly humorous moments involve the two boys, with commune veteran "Tet" (Axel Zuber) — named for the Offensive — admiring the war toys of the newcomer (Sam Kessel), leading to a game of "Torture," the boys arguing over who gets to be Pinochet.

But every room seems to have its own conflict, many of which involve sexual politics. Goran's girlfriend takes advantage of their open relationship, much to his dismay. Divorced Anna, now a lesbian, convinces Elisabeth to start meditating and stop shaving her armpits. A gay resident (Shanti Roney) tries to convince Lasse to follow his ex-wife's example and leave the straight and narrow.

The director has an initially off-putting stylistic tic of discovering characters in medium shots, and then zooming in for jerky, hand-held close-ups. The device, however, conveys the quality of commune life, of always having someone move in to violate your personal space. Moodysson also makes automobiles into symbols of alienation, as when daughter Eva (Emma Samuelsson) spends hours in the van, both as a refuge and in protest of the living conditions in the house. But characters isolated in cars also make new connections there.

With its setting in the '70s, Together puts lots of bouncy Scandinavian pop on the soundtrack, opening and closing the picture with ABBA's "S.O.S." Elisabeth and Rolf's favorite song, however, is Nazareth's "Love Hurts." Played twice in the film, it's one of those soundtrack choices that makes you wonder, "What did we do to deserve this?"

Still, bemoaning the musical tastes of roommates is another pitfall of cohabitation. The housemates may be quarrelsome — one angry young radical would rather talk politics than be seduced by an eager young woman — but the film whole-heartedly affirms the communitarian ideals. Together has a generosity of spirit and a delight in its characters reminiscent of early Bill Forsythe films like Local Hero.

Perhaps Moodysson is a little too generous, letting some bad behavior off the hook while staging scenes, like an all-inclusive, front-yard soccer game, that may be too thematically on-the-nose. But with it's lovably scruffy, uniformly pleasing ensemble, Together pays tribute to the human touch and how, no matter how annoying your family and friends may be, you can't live without them.??