Iconoclastic Swedish filmmaker Roy Andersson (“Pigeon sat on a branch pondering existence, “”You, the living, Songs from the second floor “) Has long been considered one of the world’s best filmmakers, but is not the most productive (only six films and two shorts in five decades). Anderssons The latest – and according to credible information the last – film, the desolate, black-comic “About endlessness “ (Om det oändliga), Andersson rightly won the Silver Lion Prize for directing at the Venice International Film Festival in 2019 – the first for a Swedish filmmaker – but it was a long, cumbersome, possibly pandemic-induced delay in receiving the film in North America.
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Waiting for Anderson and his unique, carefully curated oeuvre to unfold a new offering has always been an exercise in Beckettian patience. Waiting a little longer makes hardly any noticeable difference in the end. As usual, Anderson offers a rousing, compelling counterexample to mainstream film, avoiding familiar, conventional, character- or action-oriented storytelling, mobile camera work or traditional editing. Instead, Anderson deliberately chose a rigorously minimalist, strict approach: satirical vignettes with deadpan inflection, camera angles with a shot / scene and occasional fades or abrupt cuts to mark the end of one abstractly connected scene or idea to another, all carefully planned, filmed and edited by Anderson’s beloved Stockholm soundstage. For Anderson, the studio is the opportunity to not only restore one of my inner states (his), but also a three-dimensional replica of that liminal, limbo-like state.
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With a title intentionally laden with metaphysical meaning, “About Endlessness” begins with one of the most upbeat and upbeat images of Anderson’s decade-long career as an independent filmmaker: a couple hovering above the clouds, presumably on the run from any place or space they went down. It is only much later when Anderson returns to the silent couple and shows the destroyed, bombed-out world under clouds of smoke and ash, which, not for the first time in Anderson’s gently absurd worldview, suggests that only imaginative flights of fancy (literally here, figurative elsewhere) however temporary they may be, offer a possible antidote to the existential boredom and utter despair that dominate the pale, ghostly citizens of Anderson’s faded, down-to-earth world.
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The vignettes that follow and surround the floating, flying couple are typical of Anderson’s work: washed-out, if not exactly colorless, scenes, each in a precisely detailed location, including a staircase (from nowhere, possibly to anywhere), a typical Anderson character, this time a pale middle-aged man carrying groceries eager to tell a story that tells a small part of a former classmate who is often repeated by an invisible narrator for serious and comical reasons (Jessica Louthander), who ironically and mordantly comments on the human weaknesses that inevitably slip into her view. Later, the same husband laments his wife’s overwhelming sense of failure and disappointment he feels in himself, a mirror perhaps of Anderson himself (one of many, including an office worker who collapses on a train complaining that he doesn’t know what he wants) to realize his own mortality and self-doubt about his enduring contributions to film as art.
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If the nameless stair man reflects one aspect of Anderson’s personality, thoughts and ideas, it is another, a priest who, in a startling reverse confession to a disinterested psychiatrist, confesses his lack of belief in a Christian God and thus a complete loss of meaning. Like Peter denying Jesus, the priest returns to “On Infinity” twice more, each time worse than the last time. Anderson offers little consolation to the priest and thus to himself, except to find meaning and purpose in the rhythms, rituals and routines of everyday life in the banalities, and at the same time deliberately reminds us that attempts are being made to find meaning in ideology ( multiple scenes) include WWII recoveries) such as religion, can lead to violence, war, and inconceivable loss. It is just as fitting that Anderson should leave his final character not at an intersection but alone on a narrow road to infinity, waiting to be rescued by AAA or its Swedish Godot-inspired equivalent. [A-]
“About Endlessness” is available now through Magnolia Pictures.