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(Credit: Venice Film Festival)

Film | Opinion

Hear Me Out: Roy Andersson movie 'About Endlessness' is an essential modern masterpiece

@Russellisation

Take a still from any of Roy Andersson’s ‘Living Trilogy’ and you might be forgiven for thinking that the Swedish filmmaker is a pessimistic ponderer who extracts the malaise of modern life and paints it onto his actors with grey-scaled clothing and muted makeup. Whilst he is indeed a ponderer and certainly a lover of a silvery colour palette, he is no pessimist, with his 2019 masterpiece About Endlessness proving this beyond doubt. 

Feeling like the epilogue to his ‘Living Trilogy’, which consisted of a collection of poetic tales that focused on loneliness and the existential search for meaning, ending in the celebrated release of A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, Andersson’s final film is a tableau of human existence, studying individuals in the city as they search for compassion and connection. 

A visual representation of the age-old saying ‘stop and smell the roses’, Andersson’s movie manages to roll up almost every nuanced expression of human existence into his 78-minute movie, creating a pocket-sized modern bible that parts the fog of life’s complexities. On the surface, the film feels more of the same, reflecting a similar comical cross-section of life’s absurdities to the filmmaker’s previous trilogy, but as the film flows from situation to situation, narrated by two overseeing angel figures, this Andersson outing feels far more personal. 

Created in the midst of his own battle with alcoholism (explored graciously in the essential companion piece Being a Human Person), Andersson seizes the splendour of living, bottling something rather profound as he bottles the magnificence of a hot summer’s day and the beauty of hum-drum banality. Stripping back any non-essential elements, Andersson delivers his purest piece of filmmaking, devoid of cynicism and his trademark fondness for absurdity. 

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Quiet and meditative, About Endlessness is effortlessly absorbing, losing no pace as it moves from one carefully crafted vignette to the next as if merely the next stanza of an ancient transcending poem. Indeed, Andersson’s self-constructed world is totally his, with every inch of every frame being constructed in vast indoor sets, within which the Swedish filmmaker can tweak and colour reality to his liking. 

A man and woman sit on a park bench overlooking an unnamed city in the film’s opening scene. As a flock of geese flies by in the distance, the woman says, “It’s September,” to which the man grunts in agreement. One of the finest vignettes of the whole film happens to be the very first, as Andersson captures the poignancy of such a quiet moment, slicing through the artifice of his own constructed set to access something deeply moving.

Later, a waiter at a plush restaurant absentmindedly overfills a customer’s glass with red wine, a man at a subway station watches a legless, mandolin-playing busker, and a captured soldier is tied to a post and left alone to die. To capture the nuances of everyday life, Andersson rightly asserts that it’s not possible to flagrantly ignore the presence of immorality, taking to such subjects with touching compassion. 

In fact, one of the only recurring tales that we repeatedly revisit is one that concerns a priest suffering from alcoholism as he questions his own faith and juggles his personal life amid such pressures. Undoubtedly spoken from the heart, this is a personal memoir from Andersson delivered in one of his most universal movies, creating a lyrical poem about the pitfalls and triumphs of life that defies culture, creed and gravity.

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