Together Review

Lukas Moodysson's second feature after his much-acclaimed debut Fucking Åmål (unsurprisingly but cravenly retitled Show Me Love in English-speaking countries) is an almost unqualified delight - a laugh-out-loud funny comedy that fans of Mike Leigh and I'm Alan Partridge should have no problem coming to grips with, as it very much shares their fondness for using acute comic observation to uncover often painful emotional truths. There are also more than a few points in common with the likes of The Ice Storm and Happiness, though Together is altogether lighter in tone.

Together is set in and named after a socialist commune in 1970s Sweden, and what most impressed me about it (particularly on a second viewing) was the way that writer-director Lukas Moodysson consistently managed the delicate balancing act of poking gentle fun at his characters' hopeless idealism without ever falling into the trap of patronising and belittling them as people. He's probably too young to stand comparisons with Jean Renoir just yet - but he very much shares Renoir's generosity of spirit and his firm belief that everyone, no matter how off-the-wall, eccentric and indeed plain unpleasant their views, has their reasons.

It's very much an ensemble piece, though the central narrative strand revolves around the shenanigans that ensue when the hopelessly sweet-natured hippie Göran invites his sister Elisabeth and her two children Eva and Stefan to stay in the commune after she's beaten up by her estranged husband Rolf.

There, Elisabeth and the kids discover what at first seems to be a total madhouse, with people wandering around half-naked (both voyeurs and prudes should be warned that there's as much frontal nudity of both sexes as I've ever seen in a 15-certificate film) and a seemingly total breakdown of conventional moral and middle-class values - but as time passes, they begins to understand where they're coming from, and indeed vice versa, though not without plenty of emotional traumas along the way.

It was an inspired idea to show much of this from the point of view of the children, who unsurprisingly have a rather more "adult" understanding of what's going on than their supposed role models. Particularly poignant is the character of Tet, trendily named after a Vietnam battle and denied virtually every pleasure normally granted children (conventional toys are banned because they're made by agents of global capitalism) - though he's still more than capable of devising games as violent as anyone else's, most notably a torture game called 'Pinochet'.

Moodysson shoots all this in a deliberately artless docusoap style, mostly using a constantly roving hand-held camera - it's a bit like a Dogme film, but less self-conscious. In fact, you're barely aware of a directorial presence at all, and it's only on a second viewing that it becomes apparent just how cleverly constructed the film really is, and how its various themes - family, politics, love, idealism - creep up on you almost unawares.

Oh, and without giving anything away, the ending is as blissfully perfect as I've seen in a film in ages, beautifully encapsulating both the film's scrappy, shaggy-dog charm and the central theme summed up in the title. It's rare that a film has me grinning with sheer pleasure as the end credits start to roll, but Together has managed it twice so far. Thanks to the cowardice and conservatism of British cinemas, those outside London might have to make rather more of an effort to see this than they would with, say, Jurassic Park III - but it's more than worth it: I've recommended it to dozens of people, and not one has been disappointed.

Overall

9

out of 10

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