Cambridge Film Festival Review: You, The Living (Du Levande)

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The Pitch: A blinkered view of Swedish life? Maybe that’s just a matter of perspective.

The Review: Roy Andersson’s work might be familiar to you if you’ve ever watched any of those Clive James or Chris Tarrant shows from the past couple of decades, where we Brits sit and admire the eccentricities of the wider world through a multitude of TV show clips and commercials. If you’ve ever seen any of them in unusual situations He’s made over 400 commercials over the past four decades, but in that time has made only a handful of feature films. This is a follow up to 2000’s Songs From The Second Floor, and shares a lot of character traits with its predecessor.

The movie is composed of 50 short sketches, with characters and themes interlinking across them. Each one is shot in a particular style; the camera shows a locked off viewpoint, and rarely do characters even break the boundaries of the frame, many of them talking directly to camera to express their inner thoughts at various point of the proceedings. Occasionally, there will be some movement introduced (in one, the camera simply travels forward straight into the shot, then retreats; in another, the foreground remains static and we realise eventually that the background is what’s changing), but by and large this is an extremely effective device to highlight the passivity of the majority of the subjects.

There’s a sense of the tragic about most of the lives portrayed, but like its predecessor it is absolutely not without a sense of humour. There’s a grimness about some of the moments, but it’s occasionally absurdist and often blackly humourous. Andersson uses a number of devices to keep things fresh, given the potentially repetitive nature of the movie’s structure, with the occasional dream sequence thrown in, and characters interweaving and often shown from differing perspectives in each other’s narratives. When I say narratives, this is very much a collection of individual stories; there is no wider narrative arc or act structure as such, other than a link between the first scene and the end of the movie, but the consistent themes and the variations on them are spread across the running time of the picture.

At just over an hour and a half, it doesn’t outstay its welcome, and if you’re a fan of slightly off-kilter humour then there’s quite a lot to enjoy here. The structure of both filming and narrative means that this is an unhurried experience, but it’s also one you can lose yourself in quite easily, and of course if you’re not enjoying one sketch, then there’ll be another one along in a moment that will generate the laugh or the pathos that you’re looking for. There’s also some recurrent musical themes in the movie, including a dixieland jazz number being played at different points which helps to set a slightly playful mood to offset some of the darker character moments, and chances are you’ll still have the sousaphone oompa-ing through your brain for some time after the credits have rolled. An affecting and enjoyable work, it’s suggested that this might be the middle movement of a loose trilogy, but based on Andersson’s previous work rate, I wouldn’t be expecting to see the last part for a few years yet.

Why see it at the cinema: The sometimes bleak, stark empty spaces with which Andersson frames his characters will work most effectively when those empty spaces are as large as possible. The final shot also deserves its place in a cinema, rather than on the small screen.

The Score: 8/10

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