A reflection on human life in all its beauty, cruelty, splendor and banality. Simultaneously an ode and a lament, ABOUT ENDLESSNESS presents a kaleidoscope of all that is eternally human, an infinite story of the vulnerability of existence.
* Writer & Director: Roy Andersson, Sweden/Germany/Norway, 2019/2021, 78 min, in Swedish with English subs, Not Rated.
* Winner, Silver Lion for Best Direction, Venice International Film Festival, plus 3 other festival wins and 12 nominations.
* Rental fee $12 per household, 30 days to start watching, 3 days to complete once started. Your rental includes an exclusive pre-recorded discussion between Director Roy Andersson & Palme d’Or winning/Oscar nominated filmmaker Ruben Östlund (The Square, Force Majeure).
ABOUT ENDLESSNESS may not be for everyone. For an appreciation of this unique filmmaker’s style and work, plus reasons to watch, please read “About the Film.”
ABOUT THE FILM
In the film business, About Endlessness is described as a “specialty,” “niche” or “art house” film, all of which mean to say that it is not considered “main steam” with bankable stars and a big studio and big marketing budget behind it. In industry parlance it will receive “limited” and not “wide” distribution – most people will never see it in a theatre while some may see it online.
CWC viewers will appreciate some relevant specifics: About Endlessness is comprised of vignettes and deliberately paced, created by a celebrated Swedish director known for his singular style and painterly approach to visuals. The roughly 30 vignettes, a few loosely connected, resonate with short film fans. He describes his latest work as “a collection of short poems about existence.”
Roy Andersson’s unique style is characterized by stationary shots, single takes, meticulously conceived tableaux, absurdist comedy and an essential, contemplative humanity, enhanced by his use of ordinary looking non-actors.
If you are anticipating a plot-driven narrative film with a traditional story arc – set up, confrontation, resolution – you may want to alter your expectations. Here, in Andersson’s own words, is the payoff: “abstraction confronts the audience with the reality of being human by inviting their own subjective interpretation.” In other words, rather than telegraph a Hollywood-style story roadmap, Andersson allows viewers to interpret the beauty, dry humor and pathos that comprise the human condition – on their own terms.
While his approach risks losing some complacent audience members, it shows great respect for viewers’ intellectual and emotional capacity. Indeed, the film has garnered critical and audience accolades since winning the Venice Film Festival’s Best Director prize and is rated 92% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes with over sixty reviews.
If you’re willing to explore something different, you will discover moments of joy, hope, kindness and humor as Andersson shares his take on the beauty, pathos and strangeness of life. And BTW, the film is perfect for online streaming – there are portions you’ll want to watch multiple times.
Cinema as paintings, model-making in the studio, vignettes and commercials…
In About Endlessness we see reference to Chagall’s 1918 painting Over the Town in the scene with the lovers floating over the war-time ruins of Cologne – a model cityscape built by hand; and Kukryniksy’s 1946 painting The End in the scene showing Hitler during his final days in his Berlin bunker, also constructed by hand in his production studio.
Roy Andersson says his “painterly” approach to creating his view of the world recalls the works of Hopper, Bruegel, Vermeer and others. As with painting, he controls his “canvas” by creating his version of reality in his own production studio, with meticulous, labor intensive environments. His use of colors typically ranges between shades of grey and beige. See: The Living Paintings of Roy Andersson.
Andersson’s use of vignettes came from his early short film experience and decades of making humorous commercials that focus more on people than on products. (Hello, British Arrows.) Examples of his commercials can be found here, here, here and here.
SYNOPSIS / REVIEW
“A MASTERPIECE. Utterly unique.
A mesmerizing odyssey to the heart of existence.”
Review and Synopsis by Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian, November 2020
What an amazing experience this film is: and Andersson incidentally has done for Stockholm in the movies what Godard did for Paris and Allen for Manhattan. Andersson’s films are endlessly rewatchable. To view them is to abolish gravity.
Maybe at the age of 78 he feels he’s approaching the end … of his career, of his life, of everything. Despite or because of it, Swedish auteur Roy Andersson has called his latest movie About Endlessness. And though this might not be his final film (a recent documentary hinted that he has been working on some new ideas) there is a paradox there. Just as he sees death looming up in the foreground, Andersson lifts his eyes beyond the finale of all flesh to the receding horizon of mysterious infinity, that minutely detailed distance that he always fabricates in his films.
About Endlessness is another of Andersson’s superb anthologies of the human condition: people with a zombie-white pallor enclosed in enigmatic tableaux, populating his utterly unique world of unreality and artificiality, scenes of tragicomedy inspired by Tati and Python and created with masterly model work and green-screen effects in the studio. He shows moments of all too human weakness, weariness, gentleness, bewilderment, despair; there are nauseating visions of war crimes, returning us to the genocidal horror he showed in his 1991 short film World of Glory.
Yet there are also scenes of hope, compassion and love. A wizened old man in a bar, whose windows show a glorious vista of snowfall, declaims to a roomful of strangers that it is “Fantastic … fantastic!” He’s right, though his rapture isn’t enough to convince the dentist we saw in the earlier scenes, slumped over the bar, his surgical mask now pulled down to his chin in proto-Covid exhaustion and misery.
And all of it has that unmistakable compositional sense. I call it the Anderssonian Depth of Field. Striking images and poses happen under the camera’s nose, but the audience’s eye is led, as if on a rail track, out into the distance, to eerily mesmeric background scenes whose pin-sharp definition you find yourself inspecting for signs of independent life. In a church, on a bus, in a huge railway station concourse, there is enormous subsidiary pleasure in just noticing the background, which is as vividly alive as a waking dream.
Some moments are tiny, almost subliminal touches of discontent. A middle-aged woman is shown looking out of the window, and the voiceover says that she is a “communications manager, incapable of feeling shame”, but doesn’t show the shamelessness in action. A man addresses the camera, telling us how he recently hailed someone in the street he’d known at school, only to see this man ignore him and realize this former acquaintance hasn’t forgiven him for a wrong done long ago; and in a later scene Andersson shows how these feelings of shock and nascent self-reproach have curdled into resentment after discovering this non-friend has done much better than him in life. A priest is seen in various scenes experiencing a crisis of faith that manifests itself in depression, alcoholism and a dream in which the priest sees himself carrying a cross through the streets of Stockholm on the way to his own crucifixion: a scene with something of both Bergman and Allen, but quintessentially Andersson.
There is a glorious moment when we see a bar or cafe out in the summery countryside, with what appears to be a trio of guys outside drinking. Three girls wander up, and find themselves spontaneously dancing to the music playing in the bar: will the guys invite these newcomers to join them? It’s an epiphany of lightheartedness and happiness.
Some of the time, though, it’s the complete opposite. A grim vista of prisoners being force marched across a bleak, wintry landscape in Siberia gestures at Soviet cruelty: a line of hunched and trudging people going on forever. Later, we will see Hitler’s bunker, with continuous, thin snowfalls of dust caused by the artillery pounding outside, and the Führer himself staggering into a wrecked room, with physically drained senior Nazis hardly able to stand and salute. The specificity of that historical allusion is a risk – for any other filmmaker, it might have been a wrong move – but the pure wretchedness and moral deadness of what Andersson conjures up here works as an enigmatic juxtaposition with other, blameless worlds.
Over it all, there is another vision: a couple in each other’s arms, floating over a city wrecked as if by a bomb. There is something weirdly optimistic in it, a Peter Panish transcendence of disaster. What an amazing experience this film is: and Andersson incidentally has done for Stockholm in the movies what Godard did for Paris and Allen for Manhattan. Andersson’s films are endlessly rewatchable. To view them is to abolish gravity.
ABOUT ROY ANDERSSON
Notes on a Transcendental Filmmaker by Larry Kardish, film critic and curator
The world premiere in Venice of ABOUT ENDLESSNESS is, for those of us who love the expansive possibilities of cinema, an occasion to celebrate. Andersson has developed such a genuinely distinctive and original way of making films that his works qualify as a genre of their own. His films have been highlights of festivals the world over and have received many significant international awards. Andersson has had retrospectives around the globe, including two in New York at The Museum of Modern Art in 2009 and the Museum of Arts and Design in 2015 titled, the latter under the telling title “It’s Hard to be Human”.
Roy Arne Lennart Andersson was born in 1943 in Gothenberg during the Second World War when Sweden, a neutral country sold iron ore to Germany and provided a refuge for Jews fleeing Occupied Denmark and Norway. Although Andersson was an infant then, later, as filmmaker, the ambivalent position Sweden maintained during World War 2 echoes through the artist’s recur- ring themes of genocide, cruelty, bystander non-involvement and salvation.
A graduate of the Swedish Film Academy, Andersson’s early work was much influenced by the free-spirited youth-inflected and short-lived Czech New Wave best represented by Milos Forman (BLACK PETER, 1964 and LOVES OF A BLONDE, 1965), Vera Chytilova (DAISIES, 1966) and Jiri Menzel (CLOSELY WATCHED TRAINS, 1966). Like the exuberant Czech films Andersson watched at the time, his own student works were also about relationships between young people and authority figures – parents and teachers, and like the films Andersson would go on to make, their narrative tension builds from miscommunication and a robust sense of the absurd.
Andersson’s first feature-length narrative, A SWEDISH LOVE STORY, was released to both critical and popular acclaim in 1970. A tale of puppy love between two working class adolescents with problem parents, A SWEDISH LOVE STORY is a refreshingly unsentimental and honest chronicle of hopes thwarted. Audiences identified with it, and although it is considered Andersson’s most “traditional” feature, its “surprise” ending and its shots that are held slightly longer than convention, portend something “other”. That “other” was GILIAP (1975) which went massively over budget and opened to virtually unanimous scorn in Sweden. Andersson didn’t want to continue to make only films like A SWEDISH LOVE STORY, and he broke through his melancholy with a fantastical story of a new employee at a strange undistinguished hotel inhabited by a strange cast of characters.
Failure, in fact, made Andersson more famous than ever in Sweden as he turned to making commercials – almost 200 of them – that featured not only domestic appliances and comestibles, but insurance plans and even promotions for political parties. Their humor was deadpan, persuasive, and fellow countryman Ingmar Bergman thought Andersson was “the best commercials director in the world”. It is in and with these small “movies” that Andersson developed his idiosyncratic shooting strategy.
Andersson’s success from his work in commercials gave him the financial means to establish a production house in Stockholm, Studio 24, and to assemble in 1981 a dedicated crew of technicians and assistants, many of whom have worked with him ever since. The creation of his own studio allowed Andersson to work in his own manner and perfect a signature style that would distinguish the films in the “Trilogy.” He was inspired to return to filmmaking by Kieslowski’s DECALOGUE. Both Kieslowski and Andersson are artists concerned with humanity’s penchant for turning on itself. In 2006, Studio 24 organized a gallery exhibition, “Sweden and the Holocaust”, which traveled across Sweden trying to comprehend the incomprehensible – the genocide which took place in the countries surrounding Sweden in the early 1940’s.
Andersson’s films comprise a series of standalone sequences, each off kilter in itself, that as a whole cohere spiritually. Sometimes a character from one absurd scene appears in another sequence, providing a kind of narrative thread – but not necessarily. The films evolve through an alchemical reduction of visual and acoustic elements, precisely controlled by a master artist. As Andersson himself puts it, “If you can combine technical perfection with a beautiful energy and poetry, then it is fantastic.”
“That’s what I want to achieve, and it is extremely difficult”. The miracle of Andersson’s films is that they illuminate much that is unpleasant and unmoored about us, but this illumination is motivated by a moral responsibility and a love of humanity.
ABOUT ENDLESSNESS is inspired, Andersson says, by the frame of “1001 Arabian Nights” a collection of stories told by the virgin bride Scheherazade to her husband, the king, night after night to postpone her unjust execution the next morning for alleged future infidelity. Scheherazade would break off her stories mid-plot to keep her listener wanting to hear more on the next evening, and so for 1,001 nights she kept the king in suspense and herself alive. At that point the king rescinded his order for her death.
This is the purest of Andersson’s films. In spite of its caustic view of humanity, it soars like its lovers, and its despair has the weight of helium. It is an authentic transcendent work. I, for one, like Scheherzade’s royal husband, am eager for more Andersson tales, and impatiently look forward to ABOUT ENDLESSNESS, Part One Thousand and One.
ABOUT ENDLESSNESS (2019), Silver Bear – Best Film, Venice Film Festival
A PIGEON SAT ON A BRANCH REFLECTING ON EXISTENCE (2014), Golden Bear – Best Film, Venice Film Festival
YOU, THE LIVING (2007), Un Certain Regard, Cannes Film Festival
SONGS FROM THE SECOND FLOOR (2000), Special Jury Prize, Cannes Film Festival
WORLD OF GLORY (1991, short)
SOMETHING HAPPENED (1987, short)
A SWEDISH LOVE STORY (1970), 4x Winner, Berlin Film Festival