Tillsammans (or “Together” in English), the commune in Lukas Moodysson’s acclaimed 2000 feature film by the same name, was more of a home for misfits than any kind of activist group. Though the members broadly share similar socialist politics — albeit some harboring more intransigently radical beliefs than others — Moodysson depicts the collective as a pack of strays, people whom society could never easily embrace regardless of their ideology.
Set in Sweden in 1975, “Together,” the film, follows Tillsammans during a period of transition sparked by the arrival of Elisabeth (Lisa Lindgren), the middle-class sister of Göran (Gustaf Hammarsten), the commune’s kind-hearted, passive leader. She and her two young children have fled Elisabeth’s alcoholic, physically abusive husband Rolf (Michael Nyqvist) for the relative safety of the cramped group home filled with sexually liberated, frequently intoxicated left-wingers who refuse to eat meat or own a television.
Moodysson gently satirizes the members’ occasionally rigid values and outré personalities. The commune argues over whether it’s bourgeois to clean the dishes while the young children in the home, who play “torture the Pinochet victim” to pass the time, stage a protest in order to eat hot dogs instead of beans. “Together” mines comedy from Anna (Jessica Liedberg) proudly displaying her genitalia to air out her fungal infection — much to the chagrin of her ex-husband Lasse (Ola Rapace), who responds in kind — or when Signe (Cecilia Frode) and Sigvard (Lars Frode) announce they’re leaving Tillsammans partially because the children have been permitted to read the offensively materialist “Pippi Longstocking.” Ironically, the group’s most doctrinaire member, Erik (Olle Sarri), finds himself lacking in strong Marxist allies, so he resorts to proselytizing leftist rhetoric to guards standing outside government buildings.
Yet, Moodysson also shares an abiding affection for the collective and their utopian values. In “Together,” everyone is worthy of love, even Rolf, who eventually quits drinking and seeks forgiveness from his family at the behest of his isolated older friend Birger (Sten Ljunggren). Loneliness is a fate worse than death, the film argues, and thus Moodysson reserves his strongest sympathies for those who sleep alone, such as the sensitive Klasse (Shanti Roney), who pines for Lasse and tries to convince him to embrace sexual experimentation. Despite the group’s myriad interpersonal hardships, “Together” ends with a joyous game of soccer in the snow soundtracked to ABBA’s “SOS,” a scene that doubles as a testament to the power of communal living.
“Together 99,” Moodysson’s sequel to “Together,” picks up 24 years later at a time when almost every member of Tillsammans has scattered to the wind. Göran and Klasse — the two remaining participants, now both in their fifties — struggle to find new, younger recruits and maintain steady employment, finding themselves mired in old arguments about the dishes. Klasse, sensing Göran’s increasing desolation regarding the future of the commune, decides to surprise him with a reunion of the original crew on his birthday.
Overjoyed by the presence of his old friends, Göran sees an opportunity to get the band back together, but fissures emerge almost immediately. Signe and Sigvard, who now work in children’s television despite objecting to owning a TV in the mid-’70s, leave almost as quickly as they arrive because of Signe’s sensitivity to mold that seemingly no one can find. A mysterious but kind interloper, Peter (David Dencik), arrives bearing gifts and acts like he’s always been a part of the family. Finally, an erratic, unstable Lena (Anja Lundqvist) — Göran’s ex-girlfriend whom he abruptly ejected from the commune near the end of “Together” for inconsiderately sleeping with and pining after Erik (despite the two of them being in an open relationship) — arrives with a younger, mostly mute woman, Friend (Clara Christiansson Drake), whom she claims to be her daughter.
Suffice it to say, “Together 99” is packed to the brim with character and incident. But much like in the first film, Moodysson balances the large ensemble quite well, providing each performer with just enough screen time to imbue their character with realism, and more crucially, convey the passage of time. “Together 99” sings whenever it finds excuses to gather every character into the frame, whether it’s to fight with each other or dance with abandon, illustrating that blocking actors might be Moodysson’s essential skill as a director. Given the headstrong nature of the group, tensions obviously arise and ulterior motives are revealed, and soon enough the reunion turns from a happy occasion into a cauldron for the various regrets and hurt feelings of a once-vibrant community.
“Together 99” often feels like a game of hot potato, where people take different turns controlling the group’s emotional rudder. For a while, Lena takes center stage by both apologizing for her younger self and casting blame on Tillsammans for her current predicament. Both Lundqvist and Moodysson walk a thin line with Lena, addressing the unfairness of her expulsion from the commune — a nasty bit of business played for triumphant laughs in “Together” — an act that subsequently led to her homelessness and a period of institutionalization, while also refusing to make excuses for her selfish, oft-cruel behavior. Lundqvist’s performance feels in direct conversation with her turn in the original film: in sharp contrast to her jovial, reckless disposition in “Together,” Lena now wears her damage like armor, illustrating how genuine mental illness and her abrasive personality have rendered her a childlike figure that everyone keeps at arm’s length.
Later in the film, however, Anna and Klasse purge their own feelings when they both vie for the attention of Lasse (Jonas Karlsson, replacing Rapace in the original film), now a prominent theater director. Klasse assumes that Lasse would want to romantically reconnect after many years, but instead, he has brought his Gen X girlfriend — Mirjam (Julia Heveus), an actress in his racy production of “Hamlet” — to the party, whom Anna drunkenly antagonizes based on her age and appearance. Moodysson handles their respective anger and disappointment with disarming sensitivity. Klasse, a textiles artist languishing in obscurity, idealizes his brief fling with Lasse as a peak of his youth, a time when his life was ahead of him instead of behind him, feelings that Lasse treats with compassion and understanding.
Meanwhile, Mirjam, who carries the self-possession of Anna from “Together,” both takes Lasse’s ex-wife’s bait and sympathizes with her rage. She mocks Anna’s inability to properly shave her public hair while acknowledging that her generation’s earnest attempts to better the world were more productive than the nouveau obsession with irony.
It’s unclear if “Together 99” works as a standalone feature without the context of Moodysson’s original feature; in fact, it’s very easy to imagine a viewer feeling completely unmoored by the sight of aging radicals working through old hang-ups and contemporary crises. But anyone with enduring affection for “Together” will be mildly delighted by the myriad throwaway callbacks in “Together 99,” such as Göran’s delightfully uncompetitive spirit during pickup games or the lasting emphasis on homemade oatmeal as a staple. Like any belated sequel, part of the joy of “Together 99” derives from watching older actors inhabit their once-younger characters and capture how age both has and hasn’t changed their core selves.
The funniest example comes from Erik, who in the intervening two decades has renounced the left-wing views of his youth and embraced a supposedly “pragmatic” center-right perspective. The best sequence in “Together 99” comes when Erik gathers the commune together to excoriate their politics and past countercultural behavior, insisting that they reject leftism in time for the new millennium. His rambling critique of leftism ranges from denouncing the Soviet Union to insisting that black South Africans weren’t prepared for the end of apartheid. Sarri perfectly embodies his character’s obnoxiousness, someone whose politics might have changed but their pedantic personality hasn’t. There might not be a more quintessential moment for this diptych than Tillsammans trying to restrain Erik from tearing down a Mao propaganda poster as he screams, “Remember Tiananmen Square!”
Moodysson also demonstrates the inevitable melancholy that comes with the passage of time. Eagle-eyed viewers will observe that the Tillsammans VW bus, an understated symbol of their DIY spirit, is nowhere to be found in “Together 99,” as it was likely abandoned by the commune at the end of the ’70s. More noticeable, however, is the film’s complete dearth of pop music, which stands in sharp contrast to the bustling soundtrack of “Together” that not only prominently featured ABBA, but also Nazareth and Swedish songwriter Ted Gärdestad. But since the commune’s record player has seemingly been broken for years, Moodysson instead fills “Together 99” with the dulcet sounds of what’s likely public domain music playing from old 78s on a hand crank-operated phonograph. This presumable budgetary measure appropriately turns the reunion into a more muted affair, less of a party and more of a reckoning. (It also allows the film’s sole pop song to carry suitable power when it appears.)
While the majority of the original “Together” cast returns for the sequel, Moodysson adjusts for the few who didn’t or couldn’t return. Most of the children from the original film don’t appear — save for Fredrik (Henrik Lundström), the quiet neighbor boy who moves into the commune to escape his troubled home after making a connection with Elisabeth’s teenaged daughter — and the film largely implies that the kids chose not to attend the reunion because they do not fondly remember their time in Tillsammans. However, the film’s most glaring absence is Rolf, who doesn’t appear in the film due to Michael Nyquist’s death in 2017. Moodysson briefly references Rolf’s tragic demise, a fatal fall that may or may not have been suicide, but Nyquist’s absence casts something of a pall over the sequel. In many ways, Rolf represented the optimism at the heart of “Together,” the belief that someone can become a better version of themselves by embracing community instead of wallowing in individualism.
But this optimism bleeds through in other ways, most notably through Elisabeth, who served as the catalyst for the first film but plays more of a minor role in the sequel. Two decades of grief and familial struggles keep her separated from the rest of the group, so eventually, she and Peter, whom she barely knows, abandon the reunion for a more raucous twentysomething party down the street where they relive their youth. It sometimes feels like a dutiful gesture whenever “Together 99” checks back in on Elisabeth and Peter, but it makes emotional sense that she would bond with a kind outsider, as she once was one herself.
It goes without saying that the diffuse focus of “Together 99” means that some threads fall flat, certain characters feel entirely superfluous, and the drama can feel artificially compressed and overheated. While the film hardly comes to a natural conclusion (instead, it just sort of stops), it doesn’t prevent Moodysson for attempting a Hail Mary happy ending, one that admirably doesn’t try to recreate the original’s. Mileage will vary over its efficacy, but its charming stab to play the audience’s heartstrings doesn’t go unnoticed. With these two films, Moodysson has remained remarkably consistent with his messaging: it takes a village to live a meaningful life.
“Together 99” premiered at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival. It is currently seeking U.S. distribution.