The second instalment of Andersson’s absurdist ‘Living’ trilogy is a gentler but no less incisive take on the beauty and doldrums of human existence.
Dir. Roy Andersson
2007 | Sweden | Drama/Comedy | 95 mins | 1.66:1 | Swedish
M18 (passed clean) for sexual scene
Cast: Elisabeth Helander, Jorgen Nohall, Jan Wikbladh
Plot: A film about humankind, its greatness and its baseness, joy and sorrow, its self-confidence and anxiety, its desire to love and be loved.
Awards: Nom. for Un Certain Regard Award (Cannes)
International Sales: Coproduction Office
Subject Matter: Moderate – Existence
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex – Vignettes
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse
Viewed: The Projector – Swedish Film Festival
First Published: 15 Mar 2017
You, the Living, Roy Andersson’s second film in his absurdist ‘Living’ trilogy, is my first foray into his work. Having eluded me for many years, the works of Andersson were beamed on the big screen as part of the Swedish Film Festival (kudos to The Projector!).
What a treat to savour what critics have regarded to be the gentler and lighter picture of the trio (Songs from the Second Floor (2000) and A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (2014) make up the aforementioned trilogy).
You, the Living operates in a different world where traditional elements of filmmaking like narrative and structure don’t apply. Instead, Andersson takes the artificiality of precise, stage-like scenarios, and convey them through cinema’s best served tool: mise-en-scene and blocking.
His compositions of people and props are top-notch, often held in long, static shots, and ever so occasionally, tracking shots. The film features characters engaged in a series of absurd gags, structured in a flowing vignette style.
Despite the absurdity and morose humour, of which there are aplenty, Andersson finds warmth in the dismal, though only just barely, but enough to make the picture work in large parts.
“Dear Lord, forgive them. Forgive them.”
The film’s standout sequence involves a newly-wed couple in their house, but the scene transforms into something magical (I leave you to discover if you haven’t seen it). It is one of the great, purely cinematic moments of Andersson’s oeuvre.
You, the Living captures the doldrums of human existence with a sense of melancholy and repetition. There’s a kind of ‘deadness’ to how the characters interact with each other and their environment, which is devoid of rich colours and vibrant costuming. The production design is drab and dreary, best described I think as an antithesis to the films of Almodovar.
There’s beauty in the lived experience as well, and Andersson asks of us to appreciate being alive, if not to live, then to forgive. In a scene after a funeral, a woman breaks down and asks of God to forgive those who have sinned and abused their power.
The tone is one of reflection and charity, but it somehow feels like a biting indictment of the damned world that we now find ourselves diving headfirst into.