Thursday, September 4, 2008

After the Revolution, the Dishes

Utopian ideals are all very well, but can you live in a community and not strangle the guy who never washes his dishes? Or, maybe, you are that guy?

I heard a Catholic monk once say that creating the kingdom of God isn't a matter of how mystical your prayer is, when you're living in a religious community, it's more a question of whether or not you change the toilet paper roll when you've used it up.

Same with politics.

The Swedish movie Together/Tillsammans (2000, directed by Lukas Moodysson) is the best thing I've seen on the gulf between ideals and reality. The title is the name of a commune in the mid-'70s, where a group of leftists try to create a peaceful, egalitarian society, but bog down in fighting over how bourgeois it is to wash the dishes.

Practically every human type is represented in the commune--the radical whose extreme politics arise from his own violent anger; the guy whose desire for peace masks a fear of conflict; the woman who says she wants freedom from patriarchy but just wants to screw around on her lame boyfriend; and the kids who get the short-end of the stick, no matter what politics their parents preach (the fate of the powerless in all societies).

I recognized me and almost everyone I know in it. I certainly recognized my time in collectives, with their mix of admirable ideals and unexamined self-delusion.
(The personality types exist on the right too, but manifest in different stories.)

But that all sounds too grim. In fact the movie is a funny, generous, and loving look at... us. Hey, it's hard work being human! Together even ends with an ABBA song, "S.O.S.", an upbeat celebration of the whole paradoxical shebang.

Another generous-hearted story about the muddle of being political animals is Blame It on Fidel! (France, 2006).

Director Julie Gavras (daughter of filmmkaker Costa-Gavras) tells the story of Anna, a French girl who, like all children, is conservative, and who resents when her parents give up their privileged lifestyle to work for Chilean revolutionaries in the Pinochet era.

(Together is set in the same time: it includes a scene where two little boys play Torturing Pinochet instead of Cowboys and Indians.)

Anna's nine-year-old eyes let us see how hypocritical adults are, but eventually she also sees how her parents and their friends are trying to do something good.
It's a smart movie about muddling through, together--without fooling ourselves too very much.

I've been thinking it would be fun to edit Wikipedia, and rummaging around today for politcal movies I've liked, I found an entry that needs help: I'm surprised to see that the entry for Jonah Who Will be 25 in the Year 2000 (Switzerland) barely exists.

Alain Tanner's film is related to the two above--it follows a group of imperfect but hopeful people in a commune, which eventually falls apart--but it was made during the era itself (released in 1976).

I loved Jonah when I was a teenager, less so when I saw it again as an adult. I'm adding it to my Netflix queue. I'm curious to watch it again and see if it deserves more than a stub on Wikipedia.

Hold that. It's not out on a DVD format that plays on standard US players. I'll have to see if I can find it on video.


momo said...

I haven't seen those first two films; I'll have to rent them!
I remember the Tanner film vaguely, but that I really liked it! I do remember vividly the first images of working in the sausage factory, with the meat being squeezed through the grinder.
I know some folks who've tried to make a go of communal housing, and have run into some of the same issues.

deanna said...

Cool. I bear the influence of being a kid when the 60s idealism was at its peak. My dad visited San Francisco when I was eight or nine and came home telling intriguing tales. At least people tried, in the communes. They came away sadder but wiser, maybe. That's better than an artificial community (sprung from a religious or business group) that puts on a face to the world and brags about success. (Hope that makes some sense; I think the commenting area of my brain drifts!)

fresca said...

Momo: I know you don't usually write movie reviews on your blog, but I'd love to hear what you think of these, if you watch them!

Deanna: Totally! "At least people tried..." A lot of these movies touch on that bittersweet truth. "We failed but we tried."

One of my all-time favorite quotes is from Sanuel Beckett:
"No matter. Try again, Fail again. Fail better."
I couldn't say it better myself, so I just keep quoting him.