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A series of scenes that focus specially on a single idea, emotion or act us. In the absence of interfering qualities this film is able to take one factoring influence and amplify it to absurd and hilarious proportions. Each scene gives us an uninterrupted view at some of the more unglamorous characteristics that in the end determine who we are, both as individuals and as a thread in the patchwork of the collective human unconscious. Written by
Roy Anderson's film 'You, The Living' comprises a series of fifty-odd sketches, snapshots and vignettes set in a Swedish city. Some characters are on screen for just a few second, whilst others appear in numerous scenes and are sometimes seen loitering in the background while another story unfolds. Many scenes are drawn from the dreams, nightmares and fantasies of the strange but believable characters inhabiting this world. It is a fascinating approach: each of the scenes could be enjoyed in isolation, but together they contain a powerful portrait of what it is to be human.
For the first half hour or so, 'You, The Living' is gloriously funny. Much of the humour centres on the members of a brass band, whose music practice infuriates the neighbours in their apartment block. The comic highlight, however, is provided by a dinner-party track gone horribly awry. After this hilarious introduction, however, the mood of the film darkens considerably. The dinner-party dream turns grim when the hapless protagonist is put on trial for his life, setting a mixed tone of absurdity and despair for the rest of the film.
In the subsequent scenes, the unhappiness of the cast of characters becomes increasingly apparent. Theirs is a world where people are unable to connect with one another, where talk of dreams, nightmares and fantasies is widespread, but where no person can be comforted, even when others reach out to help them. The despondent woman with the 'nobody loves me' refrain and the young girl with unrequited love for the rock guitarist, Micke, are archetypal characters.
The world of 'You, The Living' is also blighted by selfishness. An elderly professor is called away the warmth of a vast banquet to answer a phone call from his impetuous money-grubbing son; a thief steals the wallet of a ruthless executive; an arrogant and impatient businessman insults a Muslim barber and receives his comeuppance. In the film's bleakest moment, a woman in church recounts the long list of human sins as her fellow parishioners shuffle out at closing time.
And yet, for all dark moments in this film, the shared refrain of 'tomorrow is another day' points to the ability of people to go on living in spite of many miseries. The soundtrack provided by Benny Anderson (of ABBA fame) seems inappropriately jovial at first but makes more and more sense as the film realises this human capacity to persevere.
'You, The Living' has an extraordinary visual style. The same washed-out, pale-green colours recur throughout, and there is nary a shadow in sight; this makes the characters appear exceptionally pallid and creates the sensation that human life is being laid bare for examination. Almost every scene is captured in a static camera frame, as if these are photographs being brought to life. The few occasions where the camera does move are all the more extraordinary; the contrast between the life and movement of the great banquet form a startling contrast with the deadness of the cloakroom scene. In the most intense moments of longing and despair, the characters transfix the viewer by directly facing the camera they know that they are being examined and have a few moments to pour out their hearts to us, the viewers.
This is a wonderful, human film.
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