Tuesday, October 28, 2008

You, The Living (dir. Roy Andersson)

"Be pleased then, you, the living, in your delightfully warmed bed, before Lethe's ice-cold wave will lick your escaping foot."

And so begins what superior critic Anton Bitel enticingly describes as ‘a litany of human disconnection, misery, frustration and despair’- but the kind that sees humour in the apparent futility of our day to day mishaps and misunderstandings that bind us together in our collective angst.

Conventional narrative is replaced with a series of living tableaux; our hapless characters shuffle around ineffectually – forlorn and resigned - some in silent anguish, others more vocal in their pain. It could make for decidedly grim viewing if not for the rather jaunty music provided by members of a marching band, and for the distance created between ourselves and the characters which enables us to see humour in their absurdity. And yet, somehow, there remains the tiniest glimmer of humanity within it all.

Andersson is gifted with a distinctive visual style: everything is in long shot, the static camera moving only once or twice throughout. Every scene is composed like a painting, the heavy ashen make-up and muted palette serving to enhance this aesthetic. The director explains: ‘I want light that has not much shadow because I want light where people can’t hide in – light without mercy.’ The pared down result is beautifully stark; the lack of distraction allows us to savour the texture of the utilitarian architecture and weather worn streets in all their gritty glory.

The film may well be a master class in mise en scene, but there is a philosophical core lurking not far beneath the surface: think understated rather than startlingly profound. Either way, this collection of deliciously droll vignettes is something you have to see for yourself.

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