Here’s the thing: chances are you are never again going to see another film even remotely similar to You the Living.
Here’s the thing: chances are you are never again going to see another film even remotely similar to You the Living. It is unusual. It does not exactly deal with topics so much as expose people. Director Roy Andersson wants to reveal ‘the unquenchable thirst for acknowledgement and love’ on the part of all human beings. Everyone in the film has a story. It’s like that ad on SBS where each person says, ‘my story is about _______.’ Or ‘my story matters.’ Here not only does the story of the individual matter but it also echoes the stories of others. Sometimes whole lines are repeated by from shot to shot by wildly different people, e.g. ‘Nobody understands me.’ And as the various tableaux are meant to be tragic-comic, there is no drama/comedy divide. They are all just stories.
This is the fourth feature film (his first was in 1970) for Andersson, who spent the years 1975 to 2000 making commercials in Scandinavia, for which he won eight Golden Lions at Cannes. His aim for You the Living was ‘to develop a cinematic language that is less predictable. ...my film breaks with classic narrative structure to tell its story via a mosaic of human destinies.’
The movie itself is a series of fifty odd vignettes of varying lengths but none of more than three minutes. Some characters reappears others do not. Some characters speak directly to the cameras others do not. Reminiscent of Buñuel, some characters talk about their dreams, followed by an enactment of the dream.
The style of shooting is consistent across the various stories. Andersson says, “I like scenes that have a disciplined simplicity, filmed in wide shot from a single angle and in one take. ...this way of working allows me to locate the characters in the world that surrounds them as opposed to isolating them.’ That means no close-ups, no clues from eyes or faces. Don’t look for a European Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie's the characters are all very ordinary looking people and many are non-actors. Their faces are covered with a light coating of white make-up and the background is in lifeless monochromatic colours, especially a muted green. The film itself has a grainy old-fashioned quality emphasized by glitches of light which remind one of old movies being screened from ancient film.
People move little and slowly. Dialogue is sparse. The sky is always cloudy the light indoors is always dim. Interiors are small, confined, 50’s style, and not an Ikea design in sight. Marching songs played by brass bands, or Enya style rhythms make up the bulk of the score. The sum total off all this style is rather dreary, even if some of the moments are humourous. We learn in the first frame that the film is based on this cheery quote from Goethe.
“Be pleased then, you the living, in your delightfully warmed bed, before Lethe’s ice-cold wave will lick your escaping foot.”
And straight to Lethe’s ice-cold wave is where You the Living delivers us – we may be in our warm beds but we should be worried, worried, worried. Life may be funny but after all there is no escape.
At 94 minutes, the film is about the right length for an appreciation of its’ curious approach. Although apparently it had them rolling in the aisles in Sweden, humour doesn’t always travel well and I found the experience to be very sombre. Nevertheless for its’ absolute uniqueness You the Living is well worth a visit to the cinema.
Somerville Theatre, UWA, Crawley WA
16 - 22 Feb, 8.30pm