Dancing on Franco’s Grave at a Commune in Stockholm

In 1975 in a Stockholm

commune, an announcement comes over the radio: “Franco is dead!” On hearing the

news, Göran, the warmheartedly avuncular commune leader and landlord, happily

spreads it among his band of followers, prompting much singing and dancing and

rejoicing-as if a political convulsion on the Iberian peninsula had anything

much to do with life in Scandinavia.

Yet director Lukas Moodysson almost makes us wish it did in Together , his affectionately satiric

comedy, tinged with delicate nostalgia, that is

catapulted on its merry way by one of the few insightfully funny political

jokes I have ever encountered on a movie screen.

As the film progresses, the attitudes of the hippie

communards become less political than psychosexual, with several modish

bisexual twists. Göran (Gustav Hammarsten) and his spoiled mistress Lena

(Anja Lundkvist) have a peculiarly “open” straight relationship, particularly

when Lena pursues a noisily orgasmic affair with Erik

(Olle Sarri), a young hard-core Marxist who still believes in world revolution

along class lines. Indeed, Erik becomes so alienated from the purely personal

traumas and dramas in the commune that he finally packs up and leaves, thus

removing the last vestige of ideological commitment from Göran’s abode.

But more disruptive than Erik’s departure is the arrival of

Göran’s married sister, Elisabeth (Lisa Lindgren), and her two children, Stefan

(Sam Kessel) and Eva (Emma Samuelsson). Elisabeth has left her drunken and

mildly abusive husband, Rolf (Michael Nyqvist), though her children clearly

miss their father and their old apartment-though possibly not in that order.

Unfortunately, Elisabeth has chosen an embarrassing moment to appear on the

premises with her children. A bitterly divorced couple, Lasse (Ola Norell) and

Anna (Jessica Liedberg), have reached a climax in their argument over Anna’s exposing her vagina at breakfast, causing Lasse to retaliate

by exposing his penis. It seems that Anna has embraced a stridently feminist

anti-male form of lesbianism, or possibly a stridently lesbian anti-male form

of feminism. Anna immediately approaches the maritally disaffected Elisabeth as

a possible recruit to her cause, while Lasse, for his part, is on the verge of

acceding to the persistent advances of Klas (Shanti Roney), the hitherto lonely

gay member of the commune.

Happily, Mr. Moodysson resists the temptation to let the

lechery and nudity get out of hand once he has established the elastic

parameters of intimate self-expression. The film then becomes less about the

group itself than about the chain of relationships both inside and outside

Göran’s once-sheltering manor. Tet (Axel Zuber) is the child of the failed

marriage of Lasse and Anna, and was named for the battle in the Vietnam War.

But children are children, and they can know loneliness even more than adults.

Hence, there is a warm glow on the screen when Elisabeth’s son Stefan lets Tet

play with him, and when the shyly bespectacled Eva finds a soulmate in the shy,

plump, nerdy and equally bespectacled 14-year-old, Fredrik (Henrik Lundström),

who lives in the house next-door to Göran’s.

Still, there are lines to be drawn and limits to be enforced

in all the relationships. Thus, despite Elisabeth’s mild lesbian flirtation

with Anna, she is eventually reconciled with the repentant Rolf. After, though

Fredrik is saucily confronted with Lena’s bared bosom

and declares his love for her to the shattered Eva, he soon recovers his senses:

He blithely repudiates the older woman’s bewitchment and is smilingly forgiven

by Eva. And Göran finally summons the gumption to kick the outrageously

unfaithful Lena out of his house and out of his life. A

joyously amateurish and noncompetitive game of soccer on the commune lawn

unites young and old, straight and gay, hippie and conformist in a Bergmanesque

exorcism of the spiritual emptiness of solitude.

Mr. Moodysson was marked as a director to watch after his

feature-film debut in 1999 with Show Me

Love , a coming-of-age story involving two schoolgirls who choose to defy

community pressures without thinking about it much or agonizing endlessly over

the repercussions. It was a matter of Mr. Moodysson’s light directorial touch

prevailing over subject matter that was and is in danger of becoming hackneyed,

despite its alibi of audacity.

I am reminded of Renoir’s remarking, back in the 1940′s,

that Leo McCarey was the only Hollywood director who

understood people. I was never sure what Renoir meant exactly, but whatever it

was, Mr. Moodysson seems to share it with McCarey. The best I can come up with

in defining this elusive quality is a comic flair saturated with feeling.

The Sixth Sense Minus Any Sense

Alejandro Amenábar’s The

Others is what you get when you mix Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw with M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense and keep the mystified

audience searching for a plot until the “surprise” ending. Even though that

ending doesn’t make much sense in terms of what we’ve been allowed to see and

hear over the first 100 minutes, the alleged ethics of movie-reviewing prevent

me from revealing it under the penalty of death. In short, The Others is the Memento

of ghost movies, in that it stays one step ahead of the audience until it winds

up one step ahead of itself.

Still, there is some early talk of an Oscar for Nicole

Kidman as Grace, the troubled mother of two equally troubled children, Anne

(Alakina Mann) and Nicholas (James Bentley). The religious text or subtext of

the film is regarded by some as being reflected in the choice of the fervently

Catholic Grace’s name. The year is 1945, and the island

of Jersey, where the action takes

place, has recently been occupied by the Germans. These are all clues to

horrors that seem to have taken place not too long ago. The house itself seems

huge and isolated and, well, ghostly. There are endless doors that have to be

locked at all times, and endless black curtains to keep the sun out for the

sake of the fatally allergic children. This is all very strange, and it’s no

wonder that the house would seem haunted to Grace and her children. There is

also the question of the three uninvited servants who pop up one day to perform

unspecified household functions while exchanging meaningful glances with each other.

Except for a seemingly tasteless breakfast for the children, there is nothing

resembling a decent meal in the whole course of the film. Grace has announced

to the servants that the house has no telephone, no radio and no electricity.

Except for a bizarre reference to a postman who has not arrived to pick up a

letter, there is not the slightest trace of an outside world.

I’m sorry, folks, but for all the acknowledgments of Chilean

director Amenábar’s ºexquisite mise en

scène , the sheer strangeness of these shenanigans made me feel that I was

being set up for a solution that wouldn’t be worth the unexplained premises of

the mystery, which goes on and on with no discernible logic or reality. This

style is what the French dismiss as trop

appliqué. I concede that my preference for lucidity over ambiguity in

cinematic storytelling may make me seem behind the times. Yet on even the most

vulgar level, The Others is not

particularly scary. There is no traction for its effects to grip an audience.

Besides, there’s a limit to the cinematic cultivation of

death as a transitional phenomenon with its own cast of characters. Back in the

30′s, Meyer Levin, the socially conscious reviewer for Esquire , denounced a stream of otherworldly entertainments as

funeral-parlor movies that had nothing to do with the problems of real people

in the real world. My own feeling nowadays is that if I never see another angel

or ghost on the screen, it will be too soon. Yet I am a great admirer of Six Feet Under on HBO, with all its

ghostly conceits. So go figure.

A Simple Plan: Find Love and Money

Hassan Yektapanah’s Djomeh ,

from his own screenplay, continues Iranian cinema’s

deceptively simple yet exquisitely conducted explorations of the Iranian psyche

in the context of a workaday reality. Let’s face it: Given the rigors of a

censorship that makes the Catholic Church’s Legion of Decency (formed in the

30′s) look like the American Civil Liberties Union, Iranian filmmakers have

made a virtue of necessity. They can’t afford special effects and digital

spectacles, so they return to the roots of cinema in the ordinary lives of

their people. The result is a certain exoticism in their often remote locales

that lend themselves to ethnic allegories.

Djomeh (Jalil Nazari) is a 20-year-old Afghani refugee who

works alongside his older countryman, Habib (Rashid Akbari), on a dairy farm in

a mountainous corner of Iran.

The farm is owned and operated by a kind and gentle Iranian addressed as Mr.

Mahmoud (Mahmoud Behraznia). The cows on the farm are photographed with a sensuous nobility as visual heralds of the coming of the

morning sunlight. Yet for all the common-folk aestheticism of dwellings carved

into the hillsides, the main characters are talkative enough for an Eric Rohmer

film.

As Mr. Mahmoud and Djomeh drive the

milk-delivery truck through ever-changing landscapes, their initially casual

conversation swells into confession and revelation. It is in the truck

that we learn Djomeh is an incurable romantic yearning to be married to women

older and wealthier than he-one in Afghanistan,

from where he’s been exiled, the other in Iran,

where he faces further setbacks. Our heart goes out to him, but it is not

enough to overcome the inhibitions imposed by Moslem society on both men and

women. But he will never give up.