The work of Swedish filmmaker Roy Andersson is rich in the ways that so many other films aren't. Having already seen his most expansive picture, Songs from the Second Floor (2000) and the shorter work World of Glory (1991), I came to this with a greater notion of what to expect. Like World of Glory, we're dealing with a short work; clocking in roughly at a mere 24 minutes. However, unlike the largely self-financed films that would follow, here we have something much more interesting; a film that attempts to analyse the facts and fictions surrounding the discovery and eventual epidemic of the AIDS virus, funded by the Swedish Board of Health and Welfare to be distributed to schools, colleges and universities around the country.
Before post-production was officially completed on the film, the board approached Andersson and instructed him to terminate the project, explaining that the ultimate message behind the film was too negative to work under the confines of which it would be shown. Thankfully, the film was eventually released and we can now see what Andersson had in mind... though it isn't hard to see why the board found this so problematic. Something Happened (1987) is - even in the short-form sense - one of the bleakest works of European cinema that I have ever seen. The usual Andersson trademarks are all here, albeit, on a much smaller scale. So we have the use of fixed camera perspectives, enormous depth of field and actors chosen for a unique, specific physical appearance, made up with white face paint. What makes the film so powerful though is the way that the director so freely draws upon his background in advertising commercials. Here we get some of the most depressing, ugly, disease ridden tableaux ever depicted on screen, but shot with all the sleek sheen and meticulous design of an IKEA commercial.
This makes the film's ultimate impact all the more powerful. The images are so wracked with pain and suffering that we are woken up so fully to the devastating effects of this illness, that one simply cannot fault the educational value of it. This is a much more responsible way to inform people of the dangers of the disease than simply resorting to inoffensive slogans and hand-holding. Andersson's treatment of the subject is impassioned and the world that he creates is both fascinating and wholly terrifying. Here is a filmmaker we simply cannot ignore. For me, there is no one - to my mind at least - who is making this kind of cinema in this particular way. Having now seen three of his key projects I can see the formation of a new cinematic ideology. It will be interesting to see what this man does next.
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