You, The Living
You, The Living (2007)
Dir. Roy Andersson
Well, I am back from my pilgrimage to Seattle, WA, and lookee there! The film I detailed just a few weeks back in my Great Shot of the Week, Roy Andersson’s follow-up to Songs From the Second Floor just happened to start a one-week run at SIFF Cinema here in Seattle. I don’t want to brag here, but on a personal note, I’ve been waiting my life to encounter the kind of theaters they have here. Let’s just hope they don’t all give in to the inevitable financial pressures showing obscurities like this can cause. But for the time, I’m in film buff’s paradise here.
So anyway, onto the film. And what a film this is. Many critics have described the film in question as More Songs From the Second Floor, and that wouldn’t be completely off-base (nor really much a criticism either… You, The Living is currently standing at a sturdy 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. Yet, no wide release or DVD yet, even two years after its original Swedish release). With this, his 4th feature-length film, Andersson has solidified himself in my eyes as the true heir to Buñuel’s legacy. Lofty praise indeed, but Andersson seems to embody that ideal like no other contemporary filmmaker, but importantly, his is no mere imitation. Andersson crafts his films rather like the working-class extension of Buñuel, filling his frames with plenty of sociopolitical bent, but focusing much more on the individual plight, rather than society’s. You, the Living, even more than Songs From the Second Floor, plays out as a pastiche of intertwining lives, but honing in on some more than others. He presents both throwaway gags (such as some classics like a dog being dragged from behind by an elderly gentleman or a man losing his cool with a tuba-practicing upstairs neighbor), but also gives us a handful of characters genuinely questioning their purpose on Earth, however ridiculous the people they surround themselves with.
Therein lies Andersson’s true motive. As with Songs, he presents a blackly comic view of a suffering populous, tied mercilessly to their socioeconomic shortcomings, but gives them enough say to extend past a mere sociological experiment. Andersson has certainly been criticized as cold, much like a certain Spanish surrealist, but his films never feel too distant in my eyes. His lens (and a whole page of this could be devoted to his impeccable cinematography, consisting of one meticulously detailed static shot after another, with very few instances of movement) always captures the soul in these people’s faces, even while they are despondently peering into the abyss. There is real care put into these shots, a never-ending fascination with the culture it is inevitably criticizing. However, this is severely undercutting what You, the Living, and Andersson in general’s greatest asset is; an unmistakable comic sense.
This film is among the funniest I’ve seen this decade. In the end, I think Songs From the Second Floor wins due to the sheer feeling of newness (it’s one of the few films I can recount in recent memory as being a complete revelation), but You, the Living is nevertheless chock full of amazing set pieces. Some of them I feel reticent describing in too much detail, as this is a film to savor in its unpredictability, but some deserve particular mention, while attempting to avoid anything resembling a spoiler. Two sequences involving characters reciting dreams they’ve had, one comic and the other rather heartbreakingly earnest, are stunners, and best showcase Andersson’s mastery of form and composition. And the final shot, which has been given a surprising media boost due to its inexplicable mention in Armond White’s now-notorious slaughter of District 9, is indeed a wonderful one, one that proudly demands to be placed aside some of the great aloof concluding shots in film history, such as Eyes Wide Shut or Beau Travail, to name but a couple. Andersson was called by Ingmar Bergman the greatest living commercial advertising director, and while that is high praise from a master, I think it wouldn’t be too much to call him one of the greatest living narrative filmmakers either. I’m a bit of a fan, you see.