The Roy Anderson Collection. (12A)
A Swedish Love Story, 1970/ Songs From the Second Floor, 2000/ You, The Living, 2007/ A Pigeon Sat On a Branch Reflecting On Existence 2014.
In this country we are very familiar with the concept of the melancholy comic; those strange lumbering creatures in evening wear who seem able to raise gales of laughter with the smallest gesture but whose own off stage lives are filled with empty despair and glum desolation that must on no account be shared with the audience. Roy Andersson is that comedian, freed from the yoke of showbiz – Tommy Cooper siphoned off into a Swedish arthouse movie maker.
This box set contains the three films that have made his reputation: Songs From the Second Floor, You, The Living, and A Pigeon Sat On a Branch Reflecting On Existence, plus his first film, the delightful and sly tale of adolescent first love A Swedish Love Story. You'd be hard pushed to find a box set of such consistently high standard.
The Trilogy About Being Human.
Though I'd take umbrage at the idea that Andersson has been making the same film over and over again for the last decade and a half, he is a man stuck in his way. Each film is set in an unidentified city, is essentially plot less, but has recurring figures that pop up throughout. Each has the same visual style – a fixed camera pointed at caricature figures on a pale set that is drained of most its colour. The figures are involved in some futile act of deadpan despondency. His images are like saucy seaside postcards drawn by Glen Larson.
In each film there are the big set pieces, staggering pieces of visual invention that will stay with you forever. In Songs there is a sequence where loads of people struggle with heaps of baggage in a race to get to airport check in desks. In A Pigeon the army of the 18th century King Charles XII stop in at a contemporary bar for refreshment before a military engagement in Russia. The really amazing scenes though are the small, incidental ones where nothing much seems to be happening; a mother coo cooing with her baby in a pram by a lake, or children blowing bubbles. Considering each of these vignettes take ages to make (Andersson seems to potter along making these films over a period of years, filming a new scene when he has the money for it) you can imagine how much effort and agony must go into even the most mundane sequence.
The method is fixed but the films are not exactly the same. Songs is filled with millennial angst, a sense of impending catastrophe. It seems the angriest of the three, the one that the so and so in the “It's like so and so meets Ingmar Bergman” quote that attach themselves to all his films, is more likely to be Monty Python rather than say Benny Hill. You, the Living is maybe the most cheerful, even though it begins with a man waking up from a dream about bombers flying over the city and ends badly. It keeps returning to members of a Ragtime Jazz band. Their rehearsals bring misery to those around them but the music is unavoidably upbeat. A Pigeon is more concerned about death, and it is noticeably that over the trilogy the characters become more extremely caricatured, and even more cadaverous pale.
What makes him wonderful is a miraculous balance between dark and light. He's a doom laden Swede, obsessed with the Nazis and genocide; he reduces humanity to caricature, drains the world of colour and depicts the depth of human behavior yet his film's are still joyous, despairingly joyous and have more genuine compassion and sincere feeling for his fellow man than most of the Oscar slop.
Andersson has managed just five full length films in the last 45 years. His debut, A Swedish Love Story was very popular in his home land, but the success seems to have thrown him a bit, and the follow up Gilliap was/is widely hated and little seen. In the early 80s he created Studio 24 in Stockholm, his own little studio. Here he has been turning out a steady stream of idiosyncratic ads, stuff you probably saw on Clive James Shows, and the occasional short film. In these he was perfecting the style of his later trilogy, giving first expressions of ideas that were to find full expression later. It's no exaggeration to say that Songs was effectively 15 years in the making.
The Other One.
A Swedish Love Story is definitely Swedish but we may debate about how much love or story there is in it. His debut film and first big hit is a naturalistic tale of young love, in many way the total opposite of the surreal freak shows he became famous for. Taking place over an endless Swedish summer, just-turned-15 Pär and almost -14 Annika slowly find themselves drawn to each other and falling in love. The two leads are compelling. As Annika, Ann-Sofie Kylin has these big wounded eyes, defensive and wary but hopeful and yearning. Rolf Sohlman's Pär is all teethy Osmond positivity. The pair are at that point where they are not children, but only half formed as adults. Most people who like the film see it as a lovely, sensitive look at young love, and it is. But lurking in the background is the world of adult disenchantment. The parents are all frustrated, whether it is with the person they married or the fact that their new swing doors aren't quite parallel. Innocent and touching as their love is, you know exactly where it is heading. The end of the film, a midsummer's party in the country, sees an abrupt change of tone as the two kids get lost within the petty frustrations and game playing of the adult world.
It's so unforced, so gentle it reminds you of Bill Forsyth, but you can see the Anderson of the future. The camera is often close up on faces but there are also lots of times when it is at a remove, watching them from a distance. The end of the film takes a great leap into the surreal, a parody perhaps of L'Aventurra, as everybody goes looking for a missing person in the mist.
Slightly disappointing, really. I was holding out for a selection of his adverts, or the shorts film (which are all on Youtube) or even the much loathed second film Gilliap. Instead you get a 15 minute selection of scenes from his film on each of the discs. Songs has a very interesting short documentary about his career up to that point. You, The Living has a director's commentary, which is interesting but in Swedish so you have to have the subtitles on for it rather the film's dialogue which means non-Swedes can't really watch the film at the same time.