More than 15 years apart, but both the Swedish Together (2000) and the Danish The Commune (2016) embrace the same topic, namely the art of living together in a commune. Women play an essential role in both films, their existence brings change and influences the group dynamics regardless of their intention of doing that.

When reminiscing about the 70s, one might immediately think about the well-known liberal counter-culture movement started by young pacifists called hippies in the USA. That was the era when peace, love and happiness were aimed at spreading throughout the globe, when collectiveness [almost] won over individualism and became popular for a short period of time on a larger scale. The memory of it, however, still mesmerises many, and gives a great opportunity for film-makers to capture the human soul on camera.

This is exactly what directors Lukas Moodysson and Thomas Vinterberg did in their films. However, the collectives assure only the framework, the individuals need to adapt to circumstances that, on the one hand, free them from the pressure society endlessly puts on them, on the other hand, they need to control themselves, and no matter what they need to fit in the group. In some ways, sharing means more sacrifices: boundaries need to be set and defined, the measure of contribution needs to be discussed, and most importantly, the life of others – even if they are strangers or only acquaintances – needs to be respected. The dynamics of the group has to work: without proper communication in terms of quantity and quality, and unlimited trust, the human soul cannot rest and focus on her/his own personal and professional improvement.

Whether it is a coincidence or the result of a conscious choice, the main character in both films is a woman. Elisabeth (Together) and Anna (The Commune) are both powerful women but their stories differ from one another. The former is a typical housewife, lives in a nuclear family of four.

On one day when her alcoholic husband hits her again, she seeks for help, leaves her violent partner and moves into her brother’s commune with her teenage daughter and somewhat younger son. The latter, Anna is a successful news presenter on TV, her husband teaches architecture at university, and her teenage daughter is currently experimenting with life. Since Anna is bored within her marital relationship, she comes up with the idea of moving into the big house her husband inherited from his father, and to start a commune.

So while Elisabeth ends up in a commune because she wants to escape from an abusive relationship, Anna sees the commune as an opportunity to spice up her and her husband’s life a bit. Elisabeth joins an apparently functioning collective, the members of which are pacifists, they celebrate the Spanish dictator, Franco’s death, don’t eat meat or watch TV. Families, couples and single hearts searching for love live under the same roof. Elisabeth and her kids’ arrival unsurprisingly challenges the status quo: they represent another world, and sooner or later they start to question the ‘strict’ rules followed in the house. They bring the hard reality back to a kind of hermetically closed community. Anna, on the other hand, comes up with the idea of the commune, decides collectively with the other members on the rules to be followed, still, she doesn’t want to hide or leave the real world behind; due to her job, she can hardly do that. The constitution of the group is similar to the Swedish one’s, and the members equally struggle in or outside a relationship, but social, economic, political or environmental issues rarely trigger discussions at the dinner table or in the living room. Not like the future of Erik and Anna’s marriage, given that it affects everyone’s life in the commune: Who should move out? Should the mistress move in? How can they solve this issue together?

Elisabeth and Anna step on the same journey, but the outcome they will have cannot be more different. The former quits being an ordinary, naïve housewife as a consequence of the learning process she goes through while living with free-spirited and rebellious individuals: she gains knowledge of the socialist world, women’s rights, and the power of consciousness. In the end, Elisabeth gets back on track, forgives her husband, and they all live happily ever after (possibly) in the commune. On the contrary, Anna is already associated with feminism, and the principles the movement stands for (e.g. equal rights for women in all fields of life). She’s definitely not a typical housewife but a conscious woman who easily makes decisions. So while Elisabeth becomes strong and determined thanks to the diverse group she’s in, Anna sinks into despair: she loses her husband, home, job, and self-confidence.

The life of others is as important and full of struggles as Elisabeth’s and Anna’s, however, one can observe that women act as the epicentre of their own commune. The others more or less are assisting Elisabeth’s ascension and Anna’s decision. In this extremely loud and emotional turmoil, Eva (Elisabeth’s daughter) and Freja (Anna’s daughter) grow up, find love and embark on their own journey that might end as their mother’s. The choice is theirs – to a certain extent. Eva behaves shyly but finds a kind boy with whom she’s ‘already’ had their first fight over another woman, in contrast, Freja doesn’t hesitate, and she picks the boy and gets together with him. At the end of the film, Freja is forced by the others to take her mother’s previous role as decision-maker. Eventually, she becomes brave enough to accept that role and encourages her to move out of the commune, since she thinks this is the only way her mum can find herself again.

The Swedish motion picture has a happy ending and taking into account the male-female relationships only, it’s slightly conservative. The ‘invisible’ scene of domestic violence is the first as well as the main turn in the plot, nevertheless, it’s never questioned morally and/or socially in the film. The Danish film gives hope but avoids being tremendously joyful. Once the others living in the commune get to know about Erik’s infidelity, it provokes questions concerning relationships.

Even if the titles such as Together (Tillsammans) and The Commune (Kollektivet) suggest that the art of living together is emphasised, Elisabeth’s and Anna’s presence is what lights up the rooms. In addition to that, both films praise women and their independence in one way or another.

CategoriesFeatures Issue 14
Barbara Majsa

Barbara is a journalist, editor and film critic. She usually does interviews with film-makers, artists, designers, and writes about cinema, design and books.