Swedish director Roy Andersson’s gift, if you can call it that, is how perfectly he envisions existence, a trait that’s interpolated cinematically as meticulously blocked scenes, uniformly stark lighting, and little if no camera movement. The mood is minimalist black comedy, but it’s often difficult to laugh at actors who seem to have been chosen for their homeliness, as well as situations in which cruelty is presented so matter-of-factly. There’s little difference between his latest movie and the previous three, which constituted a trilogy, except that there’s an even greater tendency here to mix in the surreal, including an opening vignette that shows a couple in a tight embrace flying over a devastated city. If the trilogy was about death, then About Endlessness is obviously about the afterlife, which makes you wonder where Andersson plans to take this progression next.
What links the vignettes of everyday people suffering everyday torments and emotional setbacks is a mood of muted hopelessness, characterized by an absurd scene of a waiter pouring an endless glass of wine that spills out onto the table cloth, seemingly oblivious to the mess he’s making. Though a few tableaux have repeated storylines, like the one about the medically challenged priest and another with a middle aged man suffering years later for slights he received as a schoolboy, most are stand-alone jokes that work as jokes, but mainly in hindsight. As they’re happening the viewer tends to be busy pondering the meaning of it all.
And that seems to be Andersson’s purpose, though I, for one, ended up drawing no conclusions, either serially or comprehensively. That said, I’ve always enjoyed Andersson’s films, and not just because his style is so provocative; but rather because as a filmmaker he seems so assured of that gift I mentioned above. There’s nothing self-conscious about his attitude toward humanity or his audience, which he assumes is as concerned for the average zhlub as he is. His is not a world I would like to occupy, and I sincerely hope his depiction is not an approximation of what Swedish life is really like, but from the constantly overcast skies to the painfully functional architecture, it’s a world you can identify with and fall into, if only for 76 minutes, which is a blessing. The “endlessness” he refers to, I assume, is the eternity of death, not that of being stuck in the cinema all day.
In Swedish. Now playing in Tokyo at Human Trust Cinema Yurakucho (03-6259-8608), Shinjuku Musashinokan (03-3354-5670).
About Endlessness home page in Japanese
photo (c) 2019 Roy Andersson FilmproduktionAB, Essential Filmproduktion, Societe Parisienne de Production, 4 1/2 FiksjonAS, ZDF/ARTE, Arte France Cinema, Sveriges TelevisionAB, Film Capital Stockholm