Saturday, June 30, 2012

Just watched...

..."You, The Living" by Swedish director Roy Andersson.

Although this film was made in the lovely, picturesque country of Sweden between 2004 and 2007, it feels colorless and oppressive, as though it was filmed somewhere in eastern Europe in 1980. The film has the bleak, unadorned look of Poland or Czechoslovakia in the 60s/70s. Helping that illusion along is the general look of the film: characters live in tiny shabby flats, people walk grey streets bisected with slowly lurching trolleys, and the whiff of brutalist architecture is in the air. The filmmaker, Roy Andersson, chose to use very little contrast and to light the hell out of each scene, eradicating any hint of shadow. The result is flat and unrelenting; everyone is exposed, both literally and figuratively.

Despite their sad, exposed surroundings, or perhaps because of them, the characters in this film display a range of humanity that is funny, touching, and profoundly relevant to the human condition. Fifty short vignettes at first seem random until we catch on that the crying wife whose husband upset her that morning is married to the man we are seeing in another scene. The people we see randomly practicing their band instruments are actually part of a group who play at a funeral later in the film. This kind of jigsaw puzzle way of noticing that we are all interconnected is a charming device. Some characters break the fourth wall and talk directly to the camera--and to us, the audience. Some characters tell us their nightly dreams. In this way, the film reminded me of Buñuel's brilliant "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie" in which a succession of dreams are told at various dinner tables.

Andersson cast his film, save for one role, with non-professional actors, many of whom were recruited by Andersson or an assistant right off the street. This also helps the verisimilitude of the film.

The film's title comes from a line from ROMAN ELEGIES by Goethe: "Be pleased then, you, the living, in your delightfully warmed bed, before Lethe's ice-cold wave will lick your escaping foot." In Greek mythology, Lethe is one of the five rivers that flow through Hades, and is the river of forgetfulness and oblivion, where dead souls drank to forget their mortal lives. Perhaps this line is a reference to the seemingly dour lives these people lead. It could be advice: enjoy what you have now. Or it could be a reference to the puzzling ending in which what they have now might very well be taken away.

Recommend? Absolutely.

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