Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Film Review: YOU, THE LIVING (2009, Roy Andersson)

Stars: 3.8 of 5.
Running Time: 95 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Jessika Lundberg, Elisabeth Helander, Björn Englund.
Tag-line: "From the director of SONGS FROM THE SECOND FLOOR."

If you were to encounter a conga line made up of snazzy Dixieland performers, bobbing and swaying in unison kinda like Tom Cruise and Bryan Brown doing the hippy-hippy shake in COCKTAIL, there are pretty much two ways that you could react: #1. Giggle and clap with one's mouth agape in childlike wonderment before joining in, or #2. Hope for the entire scene to be obliterated with an atomic weapon, finding respite in the fact that, though you too would be dead, SO WOULD THE ENTIRE CONGA LINE! I believe that Roy Andersson falls firmly in category #1, I fall firmly in category #2, and it's a serious testament to Andersson's filmmaking prowess that, despite these facts, I'm still able to come out of this with sincere admiration for his work.

An exploration on what Andersson calls "the grandeur of existence" using Goethe as a point of departure, YOU THE LIVING is a series of vignettes that feel as if the visually exquisite apartment-scapes and slapstick of Jacques Tati (who Andersson is just about as 'prolific' as) and the bone-dry, low-key banter of Jim Jarmusch have somehow been melded together in a Swedish locale.

Told largely through carefully devised, largely static compositions (but there ARE instances of slight camera movement, contrary to what some reviewers have stated), Andersson's forms are pale, gray, corpulent, and cartoonish- many almost resemble Ralph Steadman illustrations. Dreams and reality are interwoven with matter-of-factness; humans blunder about and find themselves nearly incapable of communicating properly; and there's a profound quiet, a stillness to the proceedings which offers a degree of comfort in this perfectly devised, dreary world.

Andersson's attention to detail is staggering- sets were sketched and built, shooting took three years, and it looks fantastic (except for, in my opinion, the acclaimed shot of airplanes over the city,

which somehow rubs me the wrong way, though I do appreciate that models were used instead of CGI). Four stars.

-Sean Gill

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