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about endlessness review
A series of vignettes observes the mundane and dramatic of life.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Roy Andersson

Starring: Jan-Eje Ferling, Thore Flygel, Tatiana Delaunay, Ania Nova, Lesley Leichtweis Bernardi

about endlessness poster

Were it not for a certain Terrence Malick, Sweden's Roy Andersson would no doubt hold the title for the most remarkable filmmaking comeback of recent decades. Like Malick, Andersson disappeared for several years, eventually returning with a distinctive new filmmaking style to win over a new generation of cinephiles. After the success of his 1970 debut, A Swedish Love Story, and the subsequent failure of his 1975 sophomore effort, Giliap, Andersson retired from feature filmmaking and immersed himself in developing his own Studio, Stockholm's 'Studio 24', a space where he could build his own cinematic world away from commercial pressures.

about endlessness review

Studio 24 eventually bore fruit with Andersson's 2000 comeback, Songs from the Second Floor, which established what we now know as the Andersson template, a series of largely standalone, though sometimes connected vignettes designed to interrogate contemporary society in Sweden and beyond. Continuing this method through 2007's You, the Living, 2015's wonderfully titled A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, and now About Endlessness, Andersson's films resemble an esoteric comedy sketch show. There are elements of Monty Python, early Woody Allen and the more absurdist elements of Bunuel and Lynch, though it's not all laughs, with Andersson often interrupting the chuckles to detail humanity at its bleakest (Hitler pops up in his latest, along with the bloody aftermath of an Islamic honour killing).

about endlessness review

Taking advantage of his self-contained studio, Andersson constructs immaculately detailed sets, a mix of practical construction and well mounted greenscreen backdrops. The effect on the audience is of being a giant, stooping to peer into lovingly fashioned dioramas, or of observing a particularly morose child play the computer game 'The Sims'. Andersson populates his world with a mixture of historical figures and everyday residents. About Endlessness occurs largely in a bleak, grey city, whose citizens have a sickly pallor as though they're extras in a zombie film. It has the look of how western propaganda liked to portray East Berlin, a miserable metropolis populated by people simply getting by.

Most of the people we meet here are merely getting by, though that takes on different meanings as per the individual concerned. Some don't interrogate existence too much, like the psychologist who tells his client, a priest who has lost his faith, that he should simply be content with being alive. For some, being alive isn't enough - "I don't know what I want," cries a despondent passenger on a tram. For others, life is an ongoing marvel. "Isn't it quite fantastic?" asks a café customer gazing on the snow falling outside the windows, a sentiment dismissed by his fellow patrons. "I think so at least," he mutters to himself. In the film's most delightful sequence, three young women pause outside a café to dance goofily to the music emanating from within. Others fail to embrace life because they judge themselves by their perceived failures, such as the man who breaks the fourth wall to air his grievances about a former classmate who has overtaken his station in life.

about endlessness review

All of this is overseen by some disembodied female narrator ("I saw a man," "I saw a woman") whose neutral timbre suggests she's dispassionately taking stock of humanity, like a contestant trying to remember the household items that pass by their eyes on 'The Generation Game'. Andersson seems to suggest that there's some sort of creator observing us, but that they may no longer recognise us, like a father shaking his head at the posters of androgynous pop stars on his son's bedroom wall. Have we evolved past this creator's original purpose? Are they proud of us or ashamed? As Andersson's vignettes outline, there's ample argument for both. We've done our best to destroy our world, but if pretty girls can dance in the street like nobody's watching and an aging man can take pleasure in watching snow descend on his city's streets, perhaps we're not so bad after all. About Endlessness might some day be uploaded by SETI as a document of the human race for any prospective alien visitors who stumble across our signal, as for better or worse, all of human life is captured in Andersson's work.

About Endlessness
 is on MUBI UK now.