You, the Living
Time Out New York Project: Issue #722, July 30-August 5, 2009
Dir. Roy Andersson. 2007. N/R. 95mins. In Swedish, with subtitles. Jessika Lundberg, Elisabeth Helander, Björn Englund.
No one views the world like Roy Andersson does. That fact alone is enough to recommend the Swedish director’s latest collection of interconnected, often single-take vignettes. Both the title and the locale (the fictional city of Lethe) come from a passage in Goethe’s Roman Elegies that references one of the rivers of Hades: All who drink from it experience complete forgetfulness. There is indeed an elegiac quality to the proceedings, as if the film is capturing the last moments of a civilization entirely oblivious to its own extinction.
Taken on its own morosely stoic terms, You, the Living is a fully realized masterpiece. It’s impossible to be unmoved by individual sequences, such as when a loudly depressive female biker breaks into song, or when a quiet teenage girl dreams of living with her rock-star idol in an apartment-building-cum-locomotive. Yet the ideologies underlying Andersson’s oft-astonishing succession of extreme wide-angle, vanishing-point tableaux are a decidedly acquired taste. Every character here is predestined for destruction, and the climax—which features the bounciest terrorist attack ever put on film—negates rather than augments these solitary instances of elation. Life, whether real or imagined, just doesn’t seem worth living in this doom-laden diorama.—Keith Uhlich