Director: Roy Andersson | 94 minutes | drama, comedy | Actors: Jessika Lundberg, Elisabeth Helander, Björn Englund, Leif Larsson, Olle Olson, Birgitta Persson, Kemal Sener, Håkan Angser, Rolf Engström, Gunnar Ivarsson, Eric Bäckman, Patrik Anders Edgren, Lennart Eriksson, Pär Fredriksson, Jessica Nilsson, Jörgen Noha Noha
After 25 years of not making a single feature film, Swedish filmmaker Roy Andersson made a glorious comeback in 2000 with “Songs from the Second Floor”, a collage of scenes about the meaning and meaninglessness of life. While Andersson emphasized the gloomy side of life in that film, the film that followed is a lot lighter in nature. In “You, the Living” (2007) we are still confronted with patches of gloom, but the often absurd situations in which the characters find themselves at least provide a good dose of black humor. Relativity of life is a central theme, because, as Andersson seems to want to say with his film, “tomorrow is another day”.
In more than fifty tableaux, Andersson strikingly sketches the dulled lives of various ordinary Stockholmers. What binds them is that they all try to pursue their dreams. The members of a Louisiana brass band, for example, who would like to break through but scare their wives – and the neighbors – with their music. But also Anna, who dreams of marrying the popular rock singer Micke. The messy Mia complains that no one understands her, and that while her boyfriend would love to understand her. She says she’s leaving him, but when he indicates that his mother is making her favorite meal today, she says “maybe still come by.” As long as she doesn’t get a non-alcoholic beer. A depressed Islamic hairdresser is so fed up with prejudices that he takes revenge on a troublesome client in his own way. A psychiatrist discusses his financial troubles with the viewer, while his sturdy wife makes love to him. It’s just a handful of the carefully staged scenes that Andersson has in store for us.
Most of those scenes have a very dry humor. In the scene where a man is taken to the electric chair, he is told to try to think about something else. Most genius is a dream scene in which a man tries to impress his guests by pulling out the tablecloth from under the expensive crockery. The structure that Andersson uses here is nothing less than masterful. The scenes, all but one of which were shot in the studio, provide accurate observations. The director uses his characteristic style of long and stately takes; the camera only makes a (small) movement once or twice. In addition, his framing is very strong. Moreover, little has been cut in the film; most scenes were shot in one take. The monotonous use of color (lots of blue and gray) underlines the desolate state of mind of the characters.
The fragmentary nature of the film may take some getting used to for some. Here and there, “You, the Living” seems like just a handful of random scenes stuck together. This feeling is reinforced by the lack of a clear common thread. It is difficult to sympathize with characters who are only in the picture for so short, especially when it is all turned on so nice and bold. Therefore, don’t compare “You, the Living” with the conventional feature film, because this is something completely different. Absurd characters in equally bizarre situations on the one hand underline the sadness of existence, but on the other hand also provide funny – and in some cases even hilarious – fragments. Sometimes painful, sometimes funny, but usually a combination of the two. Perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea, but definitely Andersson.