[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”][amazon text=Amazon&template=carousel&chan=That Film Guy&asin=B0019BC372][/pullquote] Roy Andersson started his directorial career in advertising, and then moved into feature films. You can’t tell. There is not a thing about Andersson’s style that’s reminiscent of the fast-paced world of TV advertising. In fact, the opposite is true. The camera remains still at (almost) all times, the shots are lengthy and the film very much takes its time.
This style asks quite a lot of the audience. Films so often seem to be fighting to grab and keep our attention with more CGI, more explosions, more twists, that a film with so much stillness in which, to be honest, not a huge amount happens, is a pretty bold film to make. It seems to suggest a director who’s confident “ both in himself and in his audience’s willingness to go along with what he’s doing.
So, what does happen? Well, it’s not easy to describe. Here’s the opening sequence, as a sample: A man lies sleeping on a sofa. A train rattles past the window, waking him. He sits up and says he had a terrible dream “ he dreamt the bombers were coming. The scene changes to a park, where a middle-aged woman sits on a bench and argues with her boyfriend; she says her life is terrible, she should probably just kill herself. He explains she shouldn’t, because he loves her and so does their dog. The conversation somehow morphs into her singing a song about wishing she had a motorbike to drive away on. The tubas kick in on the soundtrack. The opening credits roll.
And it continues in this vein. Characters drift in and out, some recurring, some not. Each little scene stands on its own. There’s no strong narrative thread. It seems to be a film about peoples’ lives in general and, like life, it’s by turns, funny, sad, and just plain confusing. Many of the characters describe dreams or nightmares they have had. Most are unhappy or disappointed. But that’s not to say it’s all doom and gloom, there’s a bittersweet feel to the film, and a surreal, deadpan humour to the whole thing, as well as moments of horror (one of the characters dreams of going to the electric chair for the terrible crime of messing up the tablecloth trick).
An hour and a half of this type of thing, a feeling of structurelessness and no jump cuts, no pans and little action to speak of is a disconcerting experience. It’s not your usual cinematic ride, and I think that’s what makes it one so worth taking. And it’s got lots of tubas on the soundtrack, which is always a bonus.