About Endlessness

 

starstarstarstarstar

 


Roy Andersson's latest film is cause for rejoicing.

 
About Endlessness

  

It seems likely that this will be Roy Andersson's final film and, if it is, there is no better place to stop because About Endlessness is his masterpiece, the most perfect expression of his unique voice. Ever since he made Songs from the Second Floor in 2000 we have seen an artist with a vision that is totally his own, a man who has found a way to use cinema not to tell stories but to present us with a series of films exploring the human condition as he sees and feels it. To do this has involved creating a mode of address unlike that of any other filmmaker given that his method consists of building each film out of a series of episodes or tableaux united only by the fact that they all reflect his viewpoint on life. That means that his creations offer a rare blend combining as they do the comic (because he sees that life is full of absurdities) and the pathetic (because he believes that life is tragic at heart). The critic Jonathan Romney surprised me recently by comparing Andersson's work with that of Samuel Beckett, but on reflection I believe that that is a true insight albeit that Andersson's art is one that can only be expressed through cinema.

 

The inevitable consequence of all this is that Andersson's films are too individual to appeal to all. For one thing there's the style of their expression. Thus we find that About Endlessness comes close to being made up entirely of single static shots, one for each tableau, always beautifully composed and never involving close-ups. Quite apart from that visual stylisation, the absence of any narrative will itself be a problem for some. In this latest work two figures do in fact appear more than once (one is a priest who has lost his faith and the other is a man dissatisfied with his own life and jealous of others, a fact that becomes evident when he chances to see in the street somebody who was at school with him). The reappearance of these two works to good effect, but for the rest each episode stands entirely on its own save for the fact that they are all born of Andersson's view of life. Most of these scenes take place in the present but a few hark back in order to encompass a wider view - at one-point Cologne is evoked as a bombed city and in another scene we see Hitler in his last days. In a very different way the scenes with the priest also take us back because, despite being utterly different in style, they are so close in theme to Ingmar Bergman's Winter Light, that masterpiece from 1963. 

 

There is furthermore an additional divisive factor in that Andersson's very personal sense of humour will appeal to some and may mean little to others. Although Songs from the Second Floor was a breakthrough that I admired enormously, I nevertheless found both You, The Living (2007) and A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (2014) very uneven works in which some sections worked much better than others. But in About Endlessness every episode either invites recognition of human behaviour or intrigues by encouraging the viewer to find in it what they will, where its significance lies. This time around Andersson allows the sense of pathos and tragedy to come to the fore but, in doing so, he never succumbs to sentimentality. At the same time there are great jokes here while in the background the music used, ranging from a Billie Holiday song to quiet choral pieces, makes its own contribution. The last tableau of all risks being seen as an over-simplistic symbol of what life is but, coming as it does after more than thirty other segments, it feels profound. Should Andersson never make another film, we have the consolation that About Endlessness is a full and complete realisation of his art. 

 

Original title: Om det oändliga.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Martin Serner, Jessica Louthander, Tatiana Delaunay, Anders Hellström, Jan-Eje Ferling, Bengt Bergius, Thore Flygel, Lesley Leichtweis Bernardi, Anna Sedunova, Karin Engman, Magnus Wallgren.

 

Dir Roy Andersson, Pro Pernilla Sandström and Johan Carlsson, Screenplay Roy Andersson, Ph Gergely Pálos, Art Dir Anders Hellstrom, Frida Ekstrand Elmström and Nicklas Nilsson, Ed Johan Carlsson, Kalle Boman and Roy Andersson, Costumes Julia Tegström, Isabel Sjöstrand, Sandra Parment and Amanda Ribrant.

 

Roy Andersson Filmproduktion/AB/Essential Films Arte France Cinéma-Curzon.
76 mins. Sweden/Germany/Norway/France. 2019. Rel: 6 November 2020. Available on Curzon Home Cinema. Cert. 12A.