Roy Andersson trades in some of the black humour and surrealism for an emotional depth that imbues his final film with a profound sense of reflection
It’s never easy to put your feelings about a Roy Andersson film into words. He’s one of modern cinema’s most individual auteurs, defying easy categorisation or analysis as he dives into the human condition in all its melancholy and absurdity. About Endlessness continues this proud tradition, a short and sweet (it runs at a mere 78 minutes) coda to a body of work quite unlike anyone else’s.
Though everything you’d expect from an Andersson film makes itself known here – a tableaux of vignettes, a static camera, a cast of ashen-white characters that almost look zombified, incredibly dry Nordic humour – About Endlessness is more ruminative and intimate than its predecessors. Death and lack of fulfilment loom large, from a man reflecting on the successes of an old schoolmate he once wronged to a priest desperately trying to re-find his faith, via the drunken stupor of generals in Hitler’s doomed bunker, but Andersson also pays tribute to love and youth, the things that keep the world turning after we leave it.
A scene of three young women dancing outside a pub may well be the jolliest thing Andersson has ever filmed and, as a couple floats unscathed above a bombed out city, he conjures love’s unique ability to revivify and renew even in the face of abject destruction. There isn’t a scene here that blew me away quite as much as the soldiers at the bar or the colonialist music box from Andersson’s last film, A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence, but in removing a lot of his usual surrealism, he finds a more sincere emotional register – one that proves quietly, but genuinely, affecting throughout.
Andersson’s compositions remain unmatched. Sublime set design, subtle CG, and a deep focus create moments that are profoundly alive, as if the entirety of the world has been captured in a corner of Stockholm. Beige beauty defines the visual style of Andersson’s films, and every shot is gorgeous, halfway between a photograph and a painting, populated with countless little details that give these little worlds so much more depth – it would take a couple of additional viewings to catch everything.
There’s also some highly impressive technical wizardry on display, Andersson’s soundstage-built sets managing to house full trains and an entire street’s worth of bustling shop fronts. You can sometimes see the computer-assisted joins, but, for the most part, these scenes are magical and transporting, as if you’ve somehow entered a model village or a painstakingly detailed snow globe.
It hardly feels like an accident that About Endlessness opens with a character declaring “it’s September” before gradually moving into the dead of winter, later scenes having their mood set by faint Christmas carols. This is clearly the work of a filmmaker in a state of later-career, even later-life reflection. If that makes About Endlessness just a little more ponderous than Andersson’s previous films, it’s a worthwhile trade-off, giving him the opportunity to craft something a little rawer, with a complexity of feeling that allows this quasi-Greatest Hits album to feel thrillingly new.
About Endlessness is now showing on Curzon Home Cinema.Where to watch