"Art makes life, makes interest, makes importance"

March 26, 2012

"You, The Living" (2007) by Roy Andersson

You, the Living (2007; Du Levande) is a Swedish movie by director Roy Andersson infused with dark, dark humor. It is a melancholic mosaic containing about 50 vignettes of life among ordinary people who suffer from the small iniquities of life. They are not so nice themselves, either, being exactly like our contemporaries in their selfishness, narcissism and lack of empathy with others.

The film is shot in washed-out pastel colors and drab interiors. The camera is static and we get only medium and long shots. I was reminded of the films of Tati, also by the quiet flow of the film. Some of the scenes are recurring, such as a brass band rehearsing and finally playing, and a drab bar where each time there is a call for last orders as it is going to close. The vignettes are linked together: a man goes to a barber for a quick trim as he has an important business meeting. He quarrels with the depressed barber who sadistically shaves a "punk" line down the middle of his head and then runs away. Later, the man appears in a meeting with other businessmen, now completely hairless. During the meeting, the chairman has a heart attack and dies. Next we have a funeral ceremony where a woman sings - and in another scene she sings the same song in her bubble bath at home.

Some other visions of despondence are:

An alcoholic biker woman sits on a park bench scolding her fat and meek buddy. She screams she will never see him again until she finds out he is cooking veal roast for dinner.

A naked Brunhilde wearing a Viking helmet sits riding on a fat man in a bed-scene (in fact, this is the sousaphone player from the brass band). The man's mind is far away, however, for he only keeps complaining that the bank has lost 34 percent of his retirement fund.

A carpet salesman manages to convince a customer to opt for a red instead of a green carpet (he has no green), but then he still loses the sale because a colleague has sold the end off that carpet so that it is too short now.

A psychiatrist comes to work in the morning and complains to the camera that he has spent 27 years of his life trying to help mean and selfish people be happy. He asks what the point is.

A man tries to do the trick of pulling a tablecloth from under the dishes on a long table and ends up breaking the 200-year old tableware. A surreal process with beer slugging judges follows and he is condemned by the audience to die on the electric chair. When he is being led to the chair, looking sad and despondent, he is advised to "think of something else." This all is a dream, told by a man stuck in a traffic jam.

The film starts with a man waking up and telling us he had a nasty dream about a flight of bombers approaching. The last shot of the film is of several planes hovering above a city with a glistening river - it looked beautiful, until I realized with a shock these  planes were the bombers from the dream at the beginning of the film...

As characters in the movie often say: "Tomorrow is another day" - yes, another day with loads of shit. Andersson's is a typical kind of negative humor that could only have been born under those dark, leaden Northern European skies.

My evaluation: Although I am usually of an optimistic disposition, for 90 minutes I have allowed myself to be carried away by Andersson's deadpan black Nordish humor. 8.5 points out of 10.  
Slant Magazine; Roger Ebert; DVD Talk.