Screendaily ‘Together 99’: Toronto Review

11. September 2023
Screendaily ‘Together 99’: Toronto Review

Dir/scr: Lukas Moodysson. Sweden/Denmark. 2023. 115mins

“Where the heck did everyone go?” That’s the question asked by Goran (Gustaf Hammarsten) early in Together 99, a funny, tender follow-up to Swedish filmmaker Lukas Moodysson’s Together, a 1975-set portrait of a Stockholm commune grappling with its members’ romantic foibles and political differences. Taking place 24 years later as the commune struggles to stay afloat — only Goran and the eternally melancholy Klasse (Shanti Roney) remain — the sequel reunites most of Together’s characters, who rediscover the bonds that unite them and the divisions that eventually led to their separation. Hardly glibly nostalgic, this new chapter is clear-eyed about the passage of time and the difficulty of holding onto relationships, romantic or otherwise.

Moodysson’s first feature since 2013’s We Are The Best! – Together was released in 2000 – will play as a Special Presentation in Toronto before opening in Sweden in October. The opportunity to spend time again with these colourful, lived-in characters will be all the incentive most arthouse viewers require, and warm reviews should only further raise the profile of this bittersweet sequel.

It is the summer of 1999, and Goran and Klasse live in a two-person commune, although not in the same home as the first film. Sensing that Goran is despondent and lonely, Klasse decides to invite their former housemates over to surprise him on his birthday — including Goran’s ex Lena (Anja Lundqvist), her soft-spoken daughter Friend (Clara Christiansson Drake), writer Anna (Jessica Liedberg), and her ex-husband Lasse (Jonas Karlsson), who is now a successful director and dating much younger actress Mirjam (Julia Heveus). Everyone is happy to see one another after so much time apart but, slowly, old emotional wounds get reopened and surprises are unleashed, with Lena announcing that her daughter’s father is either Goran or Erik (Olle Sarri), her two lovers from Together.

So many sequels stumble in trying to recapture the precise magic of the original, so it is a testament to Moodysson’s imagination and generosity that he convincingly crafts a follow-up which considers how these individuals would have changed over the span of nearly a quarter-century. The idealism of the 1970s has given way to the pre-millennium tension of the late 1990s, and the writer-director reconvenes his cast to measure the characters’ mental distance from their shared past. Some people are thriving, while others are struggling. Together 99 doesn’t place any judgments on its protagonists, nor is it snide in charting which of the characters have moved the furthest from the commune’s socialist ethos. Instead, Moodysson (as well as the housemates) have compassion for the ways that people evolve over time, shedding parts of themselves in the process.

The gentle laughs are plentiful as the large ensemble re-establishes their characters’ quirky interpersonal dynamics. But there’s also darkness and heartbreak. In a nod to Michael Nyqvist’s passing in 2017, his character Rolf, the abusive husband of Goran’s sister Elisabeth (Lisa Lindgren) who got sober and changed his behaviour, has died, leaving Elisabeth emotionally marooned. (Rolf’s elderly friend Birger, played again with quiet sorrow by Sten Ljunggren, also feels his loss.) Meanwhile, Lena has experienced a downward mental spiral since the events of Together, and Lundqvist captures her fragile headspace, adding a layer of tension to what is otherwise a mostly wistful series of reconnections and reminiscences.

Politics will eventually rear their head in Together 99, leading to a distressing sequence in which one of the characters demonstrates the dangers of being too passionate about certain causes, alienating all those around him. But, as with the original film, Moodysson does not strain to make his points, basing his screenplay on his characters’ quest to make sense of the world — either by remaining in the commune or not — and not being entirely successful. These disappointments play out most noticeably in several rekindlings of former romances, which largely prove ill-advised.

Singling out individual performances would be a fool’s errand, with the whole cast finding new textures in their ageing characters. Quite often, simply seeing these men and women look visibly older than they did in Together communicates as much as the filmmaking does about the poignancy of time’s relentless drumbeat. Together 99 offers no grand summations — none of these individuals change in some artificially profound manner. But you feel in your bones that these people — both the actors and their characters — are no longer the same as they were decades earlier. And, of course, neither are we.

Read the full review here.

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