Keswick Film Club - Reviews - You, The Living

Reviews - You, The Living

You, The Living

Reviewed By John Stakes

You, The Living
You, The Living
Last Sunday’s film comedy "You The Living" by Swedish Director Roy Andersson was light years removed from the humour we associate with the comedy styles of US and British mainstream and independent cinema. Andersson has been compared with Terry Gilliam (Monty Python) Keaton, Chaplin, Lynch and many others, but perhaps he is best described as unique.

Swedish comedy rarely manages to receive a hearty reception on this side of the North Sea, and there is a body of opinion which says that the Swedes have no sense of humour, but Andersson's take on life (or was it living death?) was never less than absorbing and, at times, hilarious. When you took into account the subject matter this was a major achievement.

Andersson introduced us to the dreary lives of a suburban but fragmented community in a series of subtly linked vignettes. To emphasise the utter drabness and banality of daily life each scene was painted blue-grey, and, although several lives were presented to us, almost everyone involved maintained a fixed expression, and no-one ever smiled. Some could have passed muster as George A Romero zombie extras. Against this background of unremitting gloom how could Andersson possibly engage us?

His style was to open each scene with his chosen character(s) as if composed in a painting so arousing first attention then curiosity. Long takes fed our imagination. Occasionally someone would talk to the audience and one character even complained in song. As each scene developed the absurdities of life were revealed to us unwittingly by a self- absorbed despairing public going about their daily lives. All were either in conflict with themselves or each other and were blind to life's idiosyncrasies. Would the psychiatrist for example ever escape his morning routine which found him walking breathlessly up the stairs to his office because his staff always reached and filled the lift before him and were patiently waiting for him when he finally made it? How would the argument between the business man client and barber resulting in a partially shaved head be resolved? The overall mood was strangely hypnotic and having hooked our attention, Andersson maintained his grip throughout

The quirkiness of the dreams and fantasies of some of the characters turned out to be no less absurdist and the dividing line between reality and fantasy became blurred helped by the ethereal effect created by the director’s use of lighting without shadow and white facial make-up. Andersson's denouement was to allow the other characters to enter the apocalyptic dream (that the city was about to be bombed) of the man who featured in the pre-opening credit sequence and the audience was then invited to share the experience. Had this now become a collective dream or reality? Was the message that we should live because we are certain to die? The film ended before any bomb was dropped.

This was only the fourth film from Andersson during a career spanning over 40 years mainly in commercials. His could be said to be an acquired taste. But there is no doubt that this was a rewarding cinematic experience (the whole effect would have been lost in the distracting environment of home viewing), and Andersson's take on the human condition was both fascinating and illuminating, and he fully deserved his slot in the club’s repertoire

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Keswick Film Club won the Best New Film Society at the British Federation Of Film Societies awards in 2000.

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