Toronto 2019

Roy Andersson’s About Endlessness

On Film / The Daily — Sep 5, 2019
Roy Andersson’s About Endlessness (2019)

Having won the Golden Lion five years ago with A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, Roy Andersson returns to Venice—and then heads to Toronto—with About Endlessness. Over the course of seventy-six minutes, thirty-two static shots present distinct scenes of “banal everyday ennui, dark historical consequence and, once or twice, a disquieting conflation of the two,” as Guy Lodge puts it in Variety. “As ever,” he adds, “they are framed, art-directed and color-coded with exquisite, almost obsessive-compulsive precision and minimalism—all the better to expose the untidiness of human nature in the foreground. If we’ve been here before, the immaculate, somehow tender-hearted execution of About Endlessness ensures this is not a complaint.”

The new film follows Andersson’s Living Trilogy—Songs from the Second Floor (2000), You, the Living (2007), and 2014’s Pigeon—in which “whey-faced people mostly in their later years recite mordant, deadpan conversations against clean, ultra-precise backdrops from near-empty atmosphereless locations that evoke Scandinavian paintings, with occasional intrusions from military-historical events and/or characters’ nightmares,” as Sight & Sound’s Nick James describes them. But the sketches in About Endlessness simply aren’t as funny, and that “frees them from the concern that Andersson’s humor encourages distance and condescension,” suggests James. “It’s as if the director has extended the meaning of his title by deleting the punchlines of his visual jokes, so we’re left hanging in these brief shaggy-dog situations.”

Declaring About Endlessness one of the best films he’s seen in Venice this year, David Bordwell offers a brief sketch of the history of the “tableau tradition” before turning to the work of the Swedish director. “What makes Andersson’s cinema so fascinating is his effort to design intricate, gradually unfolding compositions that harbor powerful emotional expression,” writes Bordwell. “Andersson uses miniatures, background painting, and digital effects to create his picture-book landscapes. Streets, cities, train platforms are all the product of years of preparation. Like Tativille in Jacques Tati’s PlayTime, Andersson’s sets create a beguilingly realistic version of a wholly fake city.”

For Little White LiesDavid Jenkins, “the biggest coup here is how he manages to capture the poignant aspects of a woman sipping champagne, or a father weeping over the body of his murdered daughter. He cuts through the sheen of artificiality with very real and affecting emotions, and even though he’s attempted this many times in the past, here he manages to achieve an almost Zen perfection.” Writing for Screen, Jonathan Romney notes that cinematographer Gergely Pálos, “working with Andersson for the first time, achieves wonders with perspective and depth of field in all these locked shots, notably in a quietly dazzling railway platform scene. As for the film’s metaphysical payoff—encapsulated in an expressly banal image of a man whose car breaks down—it may well be that the more mundane Andersson’s imagery gets, the more profound it actually is.”

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