Monday, August 24, 2009

YOU, THE LIVING continues Andersson's look at us -- and our skewed world

If Roy Andersson (shown below) had decided to call his newest film More Songs from the Second Floor, I wouldn't have minded a bit, for that's really what it is. His latest endeavor, YOU, THE LIVING (Du levande in its original Swedish) is so similar in style, content, and feeling to his earlier film Songs from the Second Floor that it seems almost a sequel. There is no

other moviemaker like Mr. Andersson (in my experience, at least), though in his recent film Synecdoche, New York, Charlie Kaufman comes surprisingly close to a similar feeling, content and even some shades of Andersson's poetic and quite beautiful style. (Kaufman's film tells a long shaggy-dog tale of inter-
connected characters, while Andersson is content to give us short scenes and stories that are connected by theme, humanity and the director's singular style.)

If you have not seen either of Andersson's movies, I'm going to suggest viewing You, the Living first. It's been several years since I encountered Songs from the Second Floor, but as I recall, that earlier film deals in more major events and themes: religion, finance (as does this new one), the Holocaust and even a bizarre and unsettling tale of a young girl chosen for a very special place in society. Its use of the symbolic is also more apparent. Was it because I saw "Songs" prior to "You" that the former film impressed me more? I'll probably never know until I watch both again, perhaps in quick succession. In any case, because Mr. Andersson has given us a second film that adheres so closely to the constraints of the first, You, the Living does have a certain more-of-the-same quality. When that quality flirts with -- and then utterly seduces -- greatness, we ought not discount it.

What makes this movie-maker great? He gives us life, ourselves and our world anew -- and in the kind of scope and depth that he alone achieves. The manner in which he frames his shots (not to mention their content!), his use of minimal dialog that rings of poetry and truth, his quiet and beautiful adaptation of "special effects" to create something meaningful and new: All of this combines to create magnificence. (You's use of the apartment building that moves like a train is simple, rapturous and unlike anything I've seen, and the film's final moments are utterly mysterious and fraught with... hope. Or is it menace?)

Andersson also shows us how the individual links to society in ways often unhealthy and hypocritical but seemingly inevitable and deeply sorrowful. Yet there's plenty of humor, too, dark as it may be. Even as I write about You, my mind goes back to Songs, and I suspect I am already eliding the two. So don't wait: Watch one, then the other; revel and be abashed.

Palisades Tartan is releasing You, the Living -- which recently played a two-week run at New York City's Film Forum. I hope it is now making its way around the country's foreign film hot spots, though I was not able to find any link to further theatrical playdates. Eventually, one imagines, it will be available on DVD for the kind of multiple viewings that Andersson's films deserve.

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