Why Can't We Live Together?

The old joke goes that if you remember the '60s, you probably weren't there. This may help explain why Swedish writer-director Lukas Moodysson seems to remember this era with uncanny accuracy: he wasn't there. Moodysson was born in 1969. Which would have made him 6 years old in 1975, the year that his touching, dead-on comedy "Together" takes place. ("The '60s" didn't end in 1970.)

This funny, bighearted movie about an urban commune in Stockholm avoids all the pitfalls that movies about the counterculture so easily fall into, neither demonizing its free-loving, leftist characters nor holding them up as untarnished free spirits to put down the squares. Moodysson sees the follies of earnest dogmatists and bed-swapping couples who pretend to be beyond jealousy. But if his movie critiques the excesses of the times, it does so with affection. "Together" celebrates the communal spirit with warm but clear eyes.

Moodysson also understands that these like-minded revolutionaries were not, in fact, like-minded. The mild-mannered, rational Goran has to twist himself into self-abnegating knots to try to reconcile the household. The catalyst for the drama is the arrival of his "bourgeois" sister Elisabeth, who flees to the commune with her two children after her alcoholic husband has beaten her. Anna, a lesbian for reasons as much ideological as sexual, immediately takes a shine to her: liberating the straights is her aphrodisiac. Meanwhile, Anna's sardonic ex-husband, Lasse, is being pursued by Klas, a lovelorn gay man with an unfortunate Prince Valiant hairdo. The earnest, severe couple Sigvard and Signe observe with growing horror as the rigorous rules give way to meat-eating, TV-watching impurities, while the rabid politico Erik searches in vain for someone who'll discuss Marxist theory with him. Goran's girlfriend, Lena, agrees to chat, but only if he'll sleep with her first. Postsex, she breaks her promise.

Moodysson is equally good with the children--Anna and Lasse's 8-year-old son, Tet (who likes to play the torture game called Pinochet), and Elisabeth's two lonely kids, Eva and Stefan, who regard their odd elders with prim, judgmental eyes. As he demonstrated in his terrific film about teenage girls, "Show Me Love," Moodysson seems able to slip inside just about anybody's soul.

"Together" has an almost perfect-pitch grasp of those messy, idealistic, vibrant times, when everyone was trying to reinvent himself from the ground up. The long locks and love beads may be relics of the past, but Moodysson understands that the yearning for togetherness, for a copious, more inclusive concept of community, is eternal. You don't have to have lived in a hippie commune (as I once did, circa 1970, in a geodesic dome in the mountains of southern Colorado) to recognize that "Together" is one of the year's most delightful movies. But if you have, you'll know that he's the first filmmaker to get it right.