You, The Living

You, The Living


Reviewed by: Daniel Hooper

Despite him being an acclaimed filmmaker for more than 30 years, You, The Living is only Swedish director Roy Andersson’s fourth feature film. Over this time Andersson honed his skills working as an advert-maker, a medium in which he is considered an auteur. A continuation of the sketch style from his earlier film Songs From The Second Floor, You, The Living is about the way man looks at the trivialities and absurdities of life and death, which Andersson says has its basis in an old Icelandic proverb: “Man is man’s delight.”

You, The Living opens with a middle-aged man asleep in his study woken up by a train. Addressing the camera, he states: “I had a nightmare. I dreamt the bombers were coming.” This scene encapsulates the film, illustrating the fear of death in the heart of the characters, the surreal and self-contained form of the sketches, the static mid-shots, and the dreamlike tone. The actors addressing the camera is a technique that Andersson often uses here.

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Though there are recurring characters and locations, You, The Living deliberately lacks a plot or protagonist. Andersson illustrates why he’s a renowned advert maker as he uses a strong visual sense and surreal imagery to circumvent the need for a conventional narrative. The pale, ghostly colours of the actors and mise-en-scene heighten the ethereal feeling, and the strict discipline in restricting close-up shots shows the characters as a part of the world, rather than the focus of it. A dream sequence where a block of flats moves along the landscape like a train is a wonderful sight.

If Andersson is good at using the visual to create links, then he accompanies this with a strong aural sense. Music is an important part of You, The Living, as in life itself, and the soundtrack is suitably varied. New Orleans jazz numbers are often juxtaposed with the image on screen. A dinner party erupts into a ceremonial dance and chanting. One story strand is about young female Anna’s (Jessika Lundberg) fixation with rock star Micke Larson (Eric Bäckman), while a common sight is that of a tuba player (Björn Englund) practising alone and performing with a band.

A sense of longing and isolation is felt throughout. Characters are often seen looking through windows as if watching life go by, while others repeatedly state that “no one understands.” The bar is the most common location, wherein the barman often forebodingly states at closing: “Tomorrow is another day.” The patrons rush to the bar eager for one last drink, ending another day just like every other of their lives. These repetitions emphasise the links between these seemingly disparate characters. Balancing the melancholy is a comic absurdity, such as a corpse-like husband talking about his retirement fund to his statuesque wife while they’re making love and a man stuck in traffic recalling a dream about failing to perform a magic trick and consequently being sentenced to death.

There’s a definite beginning and end to the film, but in between is an exploration of an idea and theme through multiple characters' viewpoints. You, The Living certainly isn’t light entertainment and may take a bit of effort to get into, but if you don’t mind being challenged then it is a rewarding experience. A beguiling, thoughtful, unique, and occasionally very funny film, You, The Living is a treat for the senses.

Reviewed on: 25 Mar 2008
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Surreal, dreamlike, and darkly comic sketches about life and death.
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Director: Roy Andersson

Writer: Roy Andersson

Starring: Jessika Lundberg, Elisabet Helander, Björn Englund, Eric Bäckman, Leif Larsson, Ollie Olson, Kemal Sener

Year: 2007

Runtime: 94 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Sweden, Germany, France, Denmark, Norway

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