The idyllic dream of leftist commune living, where resources and skills are shared for the greater good, needs a key ingredient to work: people. Two decades after Lukas Moodysson’s Together captured such a Stockholm community, we return to the lives of those we last saw in the 1970s––or in 2000, if you’re going by the film’s release––and the commune is running on fumes, comprising only Göran (Gustaf Hammarsten) and sole companion Klasse (Shanti Roney). As we’re introduced to the two discussing various economics and chores of their rather lonely way of life, it’s as dryly hilarious an opening as one could dream of, but the Swedish director knows this small-scale conceit isn’t wholly sustainable. Soon enough, many familiar (and some new) faces return for our lead’s 60th birthday celebration in a reunion that, not unlike the similar gap in Twin Peaks, conjures questions of shattered ideals, rekindled romances, unhealed wounds, and the terrors of aging.
Thankfully Moodysson is not one for easy targets, and Together 99 eschews the pitfalls of sentimental, nostalgic reminiscing about the good ‘ol days or even repeating the precisely similar tone of its predecessor. Taking place over the course of just one long day (and night), the director’s virtues of harmonizing the sweet and the bitter are in full effect here. The arrivals are initially warm if awkward, including Göran’s mentally unstable ex-girlfriend Lena (Anja Lundqvist) and a woman going by “Friend” (Clara Christiansson Drake) she introduces as her daughter; exes Anna (Jessica Liedberg) and Lasse (Jonas Karlsson), the latter a theater director who comes with his girlfriend and muse Mirjam (Julia Heveus); the elder Birger (Sten Ljunggren); and, most humorously, Peter (David Dencik), a gift-bearing man who adamantly claims he was in the original commune but not a soul recognizes him.
As the steady flow of alcohol removes the barriers and fast-forwards the many years of estrangement, Moodysson’s skill at zeroing-in on the naked sorrows of the human experience is as sharp as ever. To dive deeper into the specifics of where our ensemble has ended up would be spoiling much of the film’s power––both its source of laughs and emotional bruising as decades-held resentments are served up––but suffice it to say virtually every character gets their moment to offer up all they’ve held in. Guided by Ellinor Hallin’s ever-roving camera, searching for each precise moment of human frailty, Moodysson conjures an atmosphere of unpredictability as to how one may react to each revelation. While the writer-director’s inquiry into mental illness can feel a bit pat, other sequences about intergenerational connection, reckoning with shifting ideologies, and long-harbored romance have a relatable bite.
2000’s Together arrived at the ideal comedic time of little care for political correctness, and in some ways this follow-up feels a bit safer, but that lack of explicitness suggests a natural evolution as our characters have been worn down by lives that aren’t all what they dreamed decades ago. Even if it’s missing the first film’s ABBA-powered catharsis, Together 99 articulately understands that when confronted with the dashed dreams of middle age, youthful ideas you once lived your life fighting for can be left by the wayside and all that really matters is getting drunk with those you were once close with.
Together 99 premiered at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival.