Nobody makes films like Roy Andersson. The only issue with this is that Roy Andersson repeatedly makes films like Roy Andersson, and his style is so specific that its utter uniqueness becomes, paradoxically, repetitive. Each Roy Andersson film is like nothing else but, since 2000’s Songs from the Second Floor, each following film has been another example of a signature style. If you adore Roy Andersson films, About Endlessness (probably the director’s last film) will be an utter delight. However, it is hampered by stylistic familiarity.
Roy Andersson makes films that are collections of precisely directed vignettes that are, more often than not, thematically linked rather than narratively linked. Here, there are narrative continuaitons, but this is not narrative cinema. Like before, each vignette is shot in an immaculately designed set that looks like a very cold, rather anaemic version of reality (specifically Sweden). Each vignette is captured by a static camera setup and the composition is usually built around depth from the middle (often the corner of something) so that you feel like you are peering in. The design of these sets allows for uniform, soft lighting which adds a creepy unreality to everything. It all feels washed out and homogenous, as if reality was a hospital ward. The visual impact is like nothing else and, every time, Andersson finds a way to link his aesthetic to the central thematic thrust of the film.
The vignettes themselves are primarily tragicomic, full of small details and digressions. Here, we have a narrator – inspired by the narrator from One Thousand and One Nights (the vague reference point behind this film) who dispassionately refers to seeing a person doing something, and contextualises many of the scenes. The banality of these observations universalises human experiences and simplifies them down to vague details – underlying concepts, feelings, etc.. It is an effective device that pushes the endlessness of the title. Everything feels purgatorial here, purgatorial and uniform. Everybody suffers but the suffering of all seems somewhat inconsequential. This is Andersson’s summation of life and it somewhat results in a weary sigh. The film describes itself, in summary, as finding precious moments of beauty in the everyday but, to me, it felt crushingly sad and empty – the cinematic equivalent of sitting in a traffic jam. A perfect encapsulation of this is a vignette that is just a person trying to get their car to start. The car is situated in the middle of the frame on a deserted road flanked by endless moorland – the road heading back to the horizon providing the depth and perspective you always get in these shots. The car doesn’t start and the narrator tells us she saw a man having trouble with his car. As he works on his car, an angelic chorus slowly builds in the background, implying that there is something divine, or elevated, about his quest. And then the vignette cuts to black. Life goes on, in a way that means it barely goes on. This divine chorus may be suggesting something beautiful about banality but the effect feels more ironic than anything else.
In these vignettes we hop through time and multiple locations and everything seems flat and Sisyphean. This is endlessness. It is effective but it is also somewhat empty. It also left me cold in a way Andersson often does (again, if you really love Andersson, prepare to have a different response). It reminded me that I really loved You, the Living because it felt purposeful and cutting, cleverly political with intelligently interlinking themes, as opposed to just vaguely pessimistic and nihilistic – a comment rather than a sigh.
This film is a series of existential shrugs and it feels somewhat laboured, which may be purposeful but is not the most interesting thing to sit through. You have to admire the craft but even in admiring the craft I feel it necessary to note that the vignettes do not feel as imaginative or bold as before. A Pigeon Sat on a Branch reflecting on Existence is a film I did not love but the consistent imagination of it did wow me. This lacks the bite of You, the Living and feels more repetitive than ever. Ultimately, this feels appropriate, as his unique style has become one further repetition and this is a film about how all is repetition. It is about endlessness after all. And while I like this in theory, and it is clever, it still feels like a lesser work from a singular filmmaker.