You, The Living

You, The Living

DVD Rating: ****1/2

Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

Read Daniel Hooper's film review of You, The Living

"A mean person can never be happy, it's impossible."

So says writer/director Roy Andersson to his interlocutor Ronny Svensson in the full audio commentary (Swedish, with optional subtitles) on this disc – although in You, The Living, everyone (mean or otherwise) seems doomed to a half-life of unhappiness. Part of the answer to how such awfully bleak material (from nightmarish start to apocalyptic finish) can end up being, as Andersson puts it, "light-hearted" and merely "tragicomical" (as opposed to wrist-slittingly tragic, pure and simple), is down to the inclusion, in the background of almost every tableau-like episode, of an unacknowledged witness whose mute presence somehow renders the proceedings ironic and absurd. Andersson occasionally passes comment on how well cast and precisely positioned some of these silent extras are.

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Andersson says he intends You, The Living to form part of a trilogy on "the inadequacy of man", along with his previous Songs From The Second Floor (2000), and a third film (currently in negotiation) which he promises will be "even happier and sadder", which may be his first film to be shot with digital cameras, and which he hopes will not, unlike its two predecessors, be composed entirely of immobile tableaux. Not that the camera is always completely fixed in You, The Living - Andersson points out that there are in all maybe 10 to 12 camera movements in the film, although most of them are so subtle as to be effectively unnoticeable.

Amidst decrying the ills of the world's "chain-letter economy", lamenting the very existence of the electric chair and claiming he originally planned to show the planes' bomb bay doors opening in the final scenes (before deciding this would be too dark), Andersson also insists that all the film's scenes were shot entirely in studios, apart from a single scene in which pedestrians are seen cowering from the rain under a bus stop shelter (although even here, the bus stop shelter was especially built rather than found in situ). In other words, incredible as it may seem for a film with so many (apparent) exterior shots, street scenes and even a surreal train trip, there were in fact no location shoots at all, but only a hermetic, artificial world constructed entirely on soundstages, using all manner of miniatures and trompe l'oeil effects as well as elaborately detailed full-size sets.

In case you do not believe this claim, the eight-minute featurette Scene Sequence shows each and every set from the film, before the camera zooms or pans to reveal precisely where set ends and undecorated studio begins. The experience of watching this is akin to seeing a world that has engaged, amused and moved you for the duration of the film being suddenly deconstructed before your eyes. It is both exhilarating and devastating at the same time, as though a magician, having pulled off a brilliant illusion, goes on to show you exactly how it was done. In a sense this is what all behind-the-scenes featurettes do – but rarely with such straightforward economy - and the timeless naturalism of these sets seems all the more amazing once its artifice has been exposed.

The 15 minutes of Exerpts From Other Roy Andersson Films might be dismissed as a glorified trailer reel, were Andersson not such a unique visual stylist – and as scenes from his early features A Swedish Love Story (1970) and Giliap (1975), his bleak short films Something Happened (1987) and World Of Glory (1991), and his recent Songs From The Second Floor (2000) are all shown in chronological sequence, it is possible to see the development of Andersson's idiosyncratic style from rather conventional beginnings to the striking minimalist mannerism of today.

Artificial Eye are to be congratulated on this excellent package, matching (down to the menus) the sparse, if always captivating, eccentricity of this extraordinary film.

Reviewed on: 30 Jul 2008
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Surreal, dreamlike, and darkly comic sketches about life and death.
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Product Code: ART379DVD

Region: 2

Ratio: 16:9

Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0

Extras: Director's commentary, Scene Sequence documentary, excerpts from other Roy Andersson films, original theatrical trailer

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