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The Swedish filmmaker Roy Andersson's latest film You, the Living is
not easy to review. One of the reasons is that in his own words he has
broken with the Anglo-Saxon tradition of story-telling, in all essence
the template of most Western film productions. Another reason might be
that although Roy Andersson is somewhat heavy on symbolisms, his,
unlike those of, say, Andrei Tarkovsky, are of a more elusive nature.
It took him 3 years to complete this 86 minute long film and it wasn't
because he was forced to have long breaks between shootings due to
financial troubles or problems with the actors. The film consists of 57
vignettes shot mostly by a still camera, and it was the careful design
of each of these scenes which required much time. The imagery of this
film which is closely related to the director's previous film Songs
from the Second Floor is of utmost importance to the story, thus this
story is told to a great degree by the surroundings and the environment
in which the characters of Andersson's universe dwell and interact.
Before each scene was finally shot, there would have been no less than
10 different test shootings with different actors, colors, dialog etc.
The result is a dreamlike version of the surrounding world which most
of us would recognize and if the setting is like a dream, why not dream
a little? Just like in Bunuel's The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie,
when somebody says "Last night I had a dream", you get to watch it. But
then again, what is perceived as reality here is not very much
different from the dreams.
Despite the fact that the film lacks a plot in the traditional sense of the word and there are no main characters as such, the different characters who appear and reappear in different scenes still meet each other and their stories are inevitably intertwined. What most of these characters have in common is their apparent loneliness despite being surrounded by other people. The trailer trash chain smoking and binge drinking woman who dreams of having a motorbike so that she can get away from "all this crap", her corpulent and mostly silent boyfriend and his frail and seemingly gentle but rather absent-minded mother, members of a brass band whose skill improving efforts at home aren't getting a favorable reception neither from their families nor their neighbors, the depressed Middle Eastern hairdresser and his arrogant customer on his way to "a very important business meeting", an elderly man having a nightmare about bombers in the skies, a young girl dreaming about marrying the young rock star that she is so madly in love with. It's all about dreams and nightmares versus reality but it works as much as a statement in support of the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein's claims that "all human communication is miscommunication". People speak to each other but it is as if they speak past each other. They try to reach out to the others but shut the others out when those try to reach them.
You, the Living is a poetic film set physically in Stockholm but yet universally applicable. The society it portrays is Sweden, its artistic language and the people displayed are generally unmistakably Nordic. Yet, the subject it deals with, namely, the misery of the humankind in a selfish world, reaches far beyond this hemisphere. Despite the seriousness of its theme, the film itself seems a lot more cheerful and laden with humor than one might have expected. But in the words of the director himself "living is so complicated to each one of us that the only thing that saves us is our sense of humor". Hence, this film is a tragic comedy or a comic tragedy, depending on your sensitivities, and not a depressing black reality tour of the human nature. It is unusual in its language and structure, but if you can think outside the box and enjoy it, you will certainly find this film both entertaining and meaningful at the same time. It was shown at this year's Cannes festival as part of the Un Certain Regard program which offers "original and different works" outside the competition. After the film was shown in the Salle Debussy, the 1,000 strong audience gave it a standing ovation for several minutes. Do I need to say more?
There is no plot. There are no central characters. There are no moving
cameras or close-ups. In fact, this film does not follow any of the
conventional storytelling techniques used by mainstream film. However,
Roy Andersson's Du Levande is a remarkable piece of cinematic
storytelling. It is a touching look at the human psyche.
Comprised of a series of vignettes, Roy Andersson gives us an intimate insight into what makes us all human. In perfectly framed static shots, added with the perfectly in tune, yet quirky, music, Roy introduces us to a host of characters as they undertake their daily existence. Some bordering on tragic, others hilarious, we are taken on a Nordic journey like no other.
It is a journey into the little things that make us human. Instead of over-the-top storytelling or visual techniques, everything is stripped down to the bare minimum so that our sole focus is on the characters themselves. It focuses on the insignificant points of our lives that make us who we are; our dreams, our desperation. It's through this simple observation of others that we can accept who we are as individuals.
The washed out colours and deathly-pale makeup of the characters only seems to emphasize their individual stories and remind us that unlike them, we are all alive. There is no happy ending or light at the end of the tunnel in this film, yet you walk out of the cinema with a sense of life. Much more accessible than his earlier film, Songs from the Second Floor, Du Levande, is a truly inspiring piece of cinema.
A short review without any spoilers follows.
I saw this movie yesterday at the Cannes Film Festival. My initial reaction is one of wonder and happiness. I'm so happy films like this are being made in our age of blockbusters.
Roy Andersson's new movie "You, The Living" is nothing less than a complete masterpiece. You, The Living is composed by some 50 vignettes filmed with a static camera. I will not give away the content of the scenes here, because I hate when people spoil even the smallest details. But, yes, most of the scenes made the 1000 people in the Claude Debussy theatre absolutely baffled and amazed. When the film was over we applauded for several minutes, we had no other choice.
So what's the score with "You, The Living". Hm, Andersson isn't afraid to take on the heavy questions; History, guilt, gand The Holocaust during WW2 are big subjects (and these themes work very well together).
The images created are brilliant, the depth sometimes surpasses "Songs from the Second Floor".
Well, sorry for this ranting, praising review. Look out for the Flying House in the beginning folks!
10/10 stars - A Masterpiece (I never throw this grade out).
"With all the misery in the world, how can we not get drunk?" Mia
A lovely aerial view of a major city turns ominous with the approach of a fleet of airplane bombers; an irate hairdresser reacting to a perceived racial slur cuts a road through a businessman's bushy hair; a man dreams of being dragged to an electric chair after a failed magic trick and a teacher breaks down in front of her grade school class because her husband called her a hag. These and about fifty other vignettes that run the gamut from the outright depressing to the wildly humorous to the joyously uplifting populate Roy Andersson's You, the Living, his first feature since his critically acclaimed if commercially unsuccessful Songs From the Second Floor.
You, the Living is filled with the same kind of imaginative set-pieces as Songs, replete with black humor, surreal situations, and strange looking characters. Though a bit overlong and less focused than his earlier work, what remains constant is Andersson's unmistakable style with its stationary camera, sterile-looking backgrounds, and precise attention to detail. If there is a theme that ties the sketches together, it is that our time on Earth is limited and "tomorrow's another day', so let's treat each other with kindness. Along the way, we are entertained by tuba and drum music from the Louisiana Brass Band, dinner guests at a banquet hall standing on their chairs singing a rousing song, and a house that turns into a moving train.
The emotions range from the gloom of a daughter attempting to communicate with an Alzheimer's patient to a young woman's ecstatic dream about marrying a handsome guitar-player named Micke to the cheers of a crowd of onlookers. While there is no continuous narrative thread, the theme of greed and desperation appears in several sketches. The first of these threads features two corpulent individuals and their tiny dog sitting on a park bench, the woman bewailing the fact that no one understands or loves her, yet she blithely ignores the man's comforting and reassuring words.
There is also a hefty admixture of irony. During what seems to be an executive luncheon, one man tells another on the phone that workers don't appreciate quality and how nice it is to appreciate money and the things that it can buy such as fine wine. When he is not looking, however, a man at an adjacent table calmly lifts his wallet from his jacket on the back of his chair. Though Andersson's cynicism is at times not very well hidden, You the Living has an underlying humanism that shows compassion for the human condition. It is a cautionary tale that looks at the mess we humans have gotten ourselves into but suggests there is still time to turn it around, if we heed the warning of the poet Goethe that opens the film, "Be pleased then, you the living, in your delightfully warmed bed, before Lethe's ice-cold wave will lick your escaping foot."
I really didn't see this one coming. Roy Andersson had me pegged out, I
am the perfect sucker for a static camera (long live King Borowczyk!)
and I was laughing hysterically for the first fifteen minutes of the
film, he hit me straight between the eyes. You have to be a brilliant
man to make self-pity hilarious. Andersson reminds me of the third mate
on the Pequod in Moby Dick, Flask, a man who took the whole of life to
be a practical joke that the good lord Himself is playing on us. And
the web of egotism in this movie is truly hilarious.
The level of satire is at fever pitch, you have one deluded self-pitying dreamer harp on about the cruelty of the world and then totally ignore a spiritual self-reflection crying out in agony. The very depths of egotism are plumbed. I really never thought it possible to go further than Bergman's "The Silence" in this respect. However the grotesqueness of the self-love and self-regard, by every single character in this film, is staggering. We are shown an existence where the talentless and the idle rail against a world they believe has been unjust towards them, they truly are legends in their own living rooms. The human beings in this film make self-deception and self-delusion a great artform!
Only one woman in the film appears to have any sort of understanding of what is going on. An old woman who refuses to leave a chapel, knelt down praying for the forgiveness of all mankind, her speech is the most electrifying condemnation of the modern world I have ever heard. She reveals through her prayers that what is wrong with the world is not to be fixed by mere tinkering, there are not a just a few faults, there is an abyss of corruption that can only be mended by immolation, and judgement day. Watching this movie puts me in the mind of a naked monk, stood waist deep in a cold river at midnight screaming out a thousand Kyrie eleisons for the sins of humanity. Another grand jape is that it is clear that her prayers are futile, and in fact she is stopping everyone going home at closing time.
This is not a film for the smug, no-one is spared, no idols are left on the altar, no one group of humans is harangued to the glory of another group. Never has there been a greater more transcendent more astonishingly beautiful summation of our sins. It is a film for the end of the world, it is the grand jest, the great hideous practical joke of human life!
From the catalogue of images it is too difficult to pick a favourite, I slapped my thigh and almost fell off my chair in the cinema, screaming with laughter as a man attempted to pull the tablecloth from under a set service. I won't spoil what happens, but the suspense builds up, and something truly unexpected occurs. It is probably the funniest thing I have ever seen in a cinema. I am quite reserved and I just couldn't control myself: that is the measure of the greatness of this film.
The shooting of "You, the Living" is impeccably formalist. We are shown the palette of an artist, dingy browns, yellows, greys, and sky blues set alive by the shock of luminous brass textures. There is never a tone out of place, it's like an hour and a half of symphonic Whistlerian colour-meld. The obsession that must have gone into putting that colour scheme in place is extraordinary. And no shot is wasted, as with all great movies, there is not a spare inch of celluloid.
Perhaps the best film I've ever seen.
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.
This film isn't supposed to be funny, but it made me laugh.
It isn't designed to be sad, but my heart felt heavy through a number of the vignettes.
It isn't written as action adventure, but my pulse raced more than once.
Just like life, this movie doesn't manipulate your emotions and tell you how to feel. It simply is, and you react.
If you don't find it funny or sad or moving, I suspect that says more about you than the film.
It amazing and refreshing to see a director so wholeheartedly celebrate that we are all human, and embrace that we are all trapped here, doing this "life" thing, over and over for as long as we must.
Tomorrow is another day.
The large bell in a bar intermittently rings for last orders and the inevitable rush to queue forms at the counter do we want what we need only when it's too late? Or is the irony of the opening scene's wailing Cassandra a more resonant reflection of our perceptions on individual existence? There's an endless fascination about where writer-director Roy Andersson wants to take us in his fourth feature, "You, The Living". With fifty or so semi-related vignettes strung together by a penchant for tragicomic hyper-reality, its wistful interpretations and symbolic instances of life that bind us all in this great big cosmic Sisyphean struggle. The sheer simplicity of these vignettes act to dramatise the tenuity and immense preciousness of being apart of the symbiotic relationships we have with one another. Andersson might whittle down the complexity of the human condition through harsh and fast cynicism more than he should, but he also reminds us of the inherent, reassuring glory of waking up each morning to a new tomorrow when we're all aware of our own distinct forms of arrested development.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Minor Spoilers will follow.
This movie is even more odd and unconventional than "songs from the second floor". There is no main character we follow around. There is no "plot" in the conventional way. There is no emphasis on an happy end. There is no crowdpleasing. In other words Roy Andersson is back with a vengeance. Instead of falling back on convention and fixed formula Roy Andersson concentrates his film around an idea. I will not go into what that idea is, but even if you don't "get it" i promise that you will see the greatest visual depth ever put to film. The majestic scenes from "songs" pale in comparison here. A work of visual splendor.
So be kind to your fellow man, because after all "we are the living", and only you and I have the power to change our lives. That is at least what I thought when I saw the final scene in the movie, with the inhumane bomber planes sweeping in over the city in the film to take our lives away.
And of course don't forget to see this movie when it gets a limited release near you. This is one of those movies that actually have the power to make you a better person, like de Sica's "Bicycle Thieves". A very warm and humanistic film.
You can't really call Roy Andersson prolific, (6 films in 37 years).
Nor can you accuse him of being conventional; he doesn't do
'straight-forward', at least when it comes to narrative. "You, the
Living", his first film in seven years, is like a surreal documentary
in which a large number of characters are observed doing nothing very
much and if that sounds off-putting, let me assure you it isn't. This
is a funny, accessible and surprisingly warm-hearted movie, a
slice-of-life far removed from that which we normally see on the
Of course, 'slice-of-life' is hardly the proper moniker to apply to this movie since most people's lives are unlikely to be anything like this. The incidents on the screen run the gamut from the almost terrifyingly ordinary to the downright wacky and while characters may flit by, sometimes never to be seen again, others to reappear as if anxious for approval, Andersson bestows on them all a kind of benign affection. That, and some rollicking music, ensure the time we spend with them is time well-spent.
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