INTERVIEW: Happy "Together"? Moodysson Shows More Love, Intricately
by Stan Schwartz
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Stan Schwartz interviewed “Together” director Lukas Moodysson recently about his film which will expand to more theatres this Friday.]
For decades now, Swedish cinema has been fighting to emerge from the long and intimidating shadow cast by the legendary Ingmar Bergman, certainly considered by the older generation as the Swedish master. One of the most refreshing and exciting talents of the post-Bergman generations is Lukas Moodysson who burst on the scene in 1998 with his feature film debut “Fucking Amal” (released here as “Show Me Love“). That poignant coming-of-age film set in the small Swedish town of Amal promptly won four Guldbagge Awards (the Swedish Academy Awards).
Now, Moodysson is back with “Together” (“Tillsammans”), a hilarious and pointed look at life in the Swedish hippie-commune scene of the mid-1970s. With a spirited ensemble cast headed by Gustaf Hammarsten, Lisa Lindgren, Michael Nyqvist and Jessica Liedberg (not exactly household names here, but hardly unknown in Sweden), “Together” charts the trials and tribulations of its commune dwellers as they grapple with the thornier aspects of free-love, political engagement, and perhaps most intriguingly, child-rearing.
With as much meticulous attention to period detail as to emotional honesty, Moodysson captures the richly contradictory motivations of his idealistic heroes, always maintaining a masterly balance between comedy and the darker currents that run just beneath the surface. The ensemble acting from the adults is flawless and a joy to behold, but the startling performances by the film’s youngsters are worth the price of admission alone. Stan Schwartz recently talked to Moodysson about directing actors, freedom, American movies and Commune life.
indieWIRE: What made you want to make this film?
Lukas Moodysson: You have small and stupid reasons to make a film. I wanted to make a film with people with beards, things like that. And I thought it would be a fun film to make with all those costumes. And then on another level, it had a lot to do with notions of individualism versus collectivism.
iW: I love all your characters — so much so, that I found myself wishing you had made a 4-hour T.V. mini-series in order to be able to go into each character more deeply. And as it happened, some of the actors told me you actually shot substantially more than what appears in the finished film?
Moodysson: We actually did have material for a much longer film. It was three hours in a very rough version. But you couldn’t sit through that from beginning to end. It really wasn’t that good. I think there’s a problem with all films that feature lots of characters. You can’t really go into all of them. So you end up losing something and you gain something else. What you gain is a broader vision of what is going on in the world and you lose details and some of the emotional power. The thing we probably changed most [from the original script] was the order of the scenes. For example, the first scene in the film is not the first scene in the script. It didn’t start with the death of Franco; that’s a scene that originally happened in the middle of the film.
iW: Was there much improvisation or is every one of those lines in the script?
Moodysson: Not every one, but I do write a very detailed script. Sometimes I give the actors a lot of freedom and sometimes not, depending on my mood. I do try to be free about how to move in the room and where to stand or sit. And I try to create an atmosphere whereby the camera follows the actors instead of the actors having to constantly think about where the camera is and hitting their marks. That’s terrible. Apart from a few times where it’s totally necessary, I don’t want any marks and tape and stuff.
iW: It certainly allows for more spontaneity . . .
Moodysson: Yes. Normally in films, people play emotional scenes while looking at tape marks on the side of the camera and I think that’s really humiliating. You can’t really act looking at something else. You have to look in the other person’s eyes. Generally, I think actors act too much; they don’t behave as they would normally. This is a problem in American movies because of the American dramatic tradition of acting. But it’s also a problem in Sweden because of the tradition of theater actors working in film. And theater acting is quite a different kind of acting.
iW: Speaking of theater, lots of Swedish theater folk have recently told me about how changes in Swedish politics and economics have resulted in increasingly less government subsidization and a subtle shift towards the American commercial model. Do you feel this in the film industry as well?
Moodysson: Sometimes I feel that Swedish films should get less money. Because we don’t make very good films, so why should we make more films?
iW: How do you contrast Swedish society today with the idealistic days of the ’60s and ’70s?
Moodysson: In the ’60s and ’70s, people could fulfill their dreams much more than earlier generations. And that is something we should feel extremely proud of. My parents’ generation was the first in which you could really move beyond the class you were born into. My father had the opportunity to become an engineer, study at the university, etc., instead of being a farmer, like his father and his father’s father and so on for ages and ages back to the Stone Age. Likewise, my mother could do something else besides being a housewife like all of her ancestors. But what I see in Swedish society today is that some groups — particularly immigrants in the big city suburbs — are not allowed that freedom. They are not really invited into society. They have the same constraints as my grandfather in 1930 or something. Which is not good.
iW: And yet from the tone of your film, you seem to be a very optimistic person.
Moodysson: Yes. There is a great misunderstanding that for any [work of art] to be of value, it must be dark. On the contrary, if you want to create something of great value for the audience, for mankind, then you should create something that gives hope and light to people.
iW: I was particularly intrigued by the ambivalent attitude your film takes towards how the adults treat the children. Just how narcissistic and self-involved do you consider the parents of the commune days?
Moodysson: Quite a lot. But they also are really trying. They’re not doing it because of sheer malevolency, they’re doing it because they are trying to change their own lives and see if there are different possible ways of living. But that is one of the bad things about this ’70s environment. Some kids — not all — were really neglected and exposed to things they should not have been exposed to. For example, adult sexuality. I’ve spoken to so many people who grew up in communes and had these terrible experiences of being too close to adult sexuality. For example, parents showing their kids how to masturbate. Things like that. You shouldn’t do that. I totally sympathize with experimentation but you must also have some kind of limits.
iW: How do you get such good performances out of your child actors?
Moodysson: I find the best. I find those that can relax and have some kind of understanding of the part that they are playing. And then I give them freedom. In American films, you see a lot of children who are really cutesy and totally unreal. Now that would be interesting to do: make an American children’s movie.
iW: A propos, any desire in general to live and work in America?
Moodysson: Not to live, but work, yes.
iW: I would have thought the big Hollywood machinery is not your style…
Moodysson: I don’t think I’d have any problem making films my own way. It would be easy for me to make an American film in America because I don’t have that much respect for the American film industry. Whereas most directors from Europe and Sweden who go to Hollywood dream of a Hollywood career, which is not for me. But there are some subjects that interest me in America. Like the health insurance system.
iW: How would you make that film hopeful? It seems to me a pretty hopeless situation.
Moodysson: I would make a film about people who’d start a revolution. It’s also interesting to make films from an outsider’s perspective. I like the idea of looking at things from the outside. And it works both ways. For example, what if a good American director came to Sweden to make a film about Sweden? That could be very interesting.
iW: I can’t help but think of Colin Nutley who came from England