“Isn’t it quite fantastic?”
Watching Roy Andersson’s About Endlessness is more like wandering through an art museum than sitting in a theater. This film is not about a story. It is about looking carefully at scene after scene of what may seem like ordinary life, but always just a tad off so that we need to look and consider just what we are seeing.
The film is made up of various tableaux. These are often unusually empty locales with just a handful of people within the frame. There may or may not be action or dialogue in each picture. After we have a few moments to take in this particular scene we hear a woman in voice over (in Swedish with English subtitles) say “I saw a man (or a woman) who….” Such as “ I saw a man who stepped on a landmine and lost his foot”; “I saw a man who didn’t trust banks”; “I saw a woman incapable of feeling shame”; “A woman who had a problem with her shoe”.
There is one recurring story that features a priest who has lost his faith. He dreams of carrying a cross and being crucified. He continues to lead worship, but for him it is an empty gesture. What is worse is that his life is now empty as well.
As we see each scene it is very like looking at a picture in the museum. We have time to notice the background and how each person is placed. In a museum we may look for the title of the painting to better understand it. Here we get the “I saw a woman who…” phrase that gives us a context for interpretation.
And like in a museum we bring our own experiences and understandings to the interpretation of each scene. We may find them humorous. We may think them tragic. They may be filled with hope or with despair. The various tableaux become emotive touchstones.
The evocative and existential nature of this film is certainly a divergence from our expectations of films. Although very different stylistically, this brought to mind the films of Terrance Mallick for the way and their ability to create a version of reality that allows us to think about life in new, and sometimes challenging ways. As with Mallick’s films, this is a celebration of humanity with all its joys and sorrows, with times of loneliness and estrangement, with times of comfort and love.
As with any walk through a museum, we may be drawn to some pictures and repelled by others. But we still come away with the knowledge that we have seen a bit of the truth about life.
About Endlessness is playing in theaters and on demand.
Photos courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.