There’s nothing for it but to call the contemplative Swede Roy Andersson’s “About Endlessness” the fourth film in his “trilogy” about the futility/banality/hopelessness of life, “Living,” which supposedly ended with. “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence.”
And if you’re reading beyond that first paragraph, that must mean you give a damn about this philosopher filmmaker’s brooding collections of tableaux, characters illustrating whatever point he wants to make about human existence under the perpetual “dream like” gloomy grey of Swedish interiors and exteriors.
So I won’t limit this review to “only Andersson could contemplate infinity and get across the idea of its endless tedium in a mere 76 minutes of screen time.” While I like the challenge of his self-conscious cinema, I find the urge to go glib every time I encounter one of his films almost too hard to resist.
My take on “Endlessness” is that he’s illustrating the banality of existence and how it distracts us from perhaps appreciating life on its own terms.
As the weeping man on the Stockholm street tram whines to one and all in the film, “I don’t know what I want.” Who does?
Using a little irony and just a smidge of drollery, Andersson makes this Deep Thought argument via vignettes about blind dates that don’t show up, a woman who “doesn’t expect anyone to meet her” at the train, an irritable, hard-drinking dentist and Adolf Hitler (Magnus Wallgren), ” “a man who wanted to conquer the world and knew he’d fail.”
The linking device in all of this is a couple, floating in the clouds over a ruined city, with a female narrator (Jessica Louthander) introducing the various tableaux with “I saw a man who did not trust banks, and keeps his savings under his mattress” or “I saw a woman communications manager incapable of feeling shame.”
A man’s car breaks down in a striking piece of wilderness, mountains behind him, geese flying overhead. But he’s stuck, as are we all, bogged down — facing some fresh aggravation instead of stopping to take in the beauty. Same with the tippling dentist who won’t look up from his drink at the “marvelous” snowy Christmas season scene unfolding outside the bar window.
A distracted waiter overpours wine all over a white table cloth where his customer, who has just walked in from his latest brush-off in some decades-long grudge against a man he knew long ago, finally is focused on “the now.” And yet even that’s a mess.
A “sad” mandolinist who “lost his legs to a land mine” plays “O Sole’ Mio” on a public sidewalk, perhaps musically lamenting that we never see the sun here. Andersson’s films all share the same color palette and thus even the exteriors have a whiff of soundstage about them.
The stand-out story thread here concerns a priest (Martin Serner), who is having a recurring nightmare. He is flogged, kicked and taunted as he is forced to carry a cross up a narrow street.
“Crucify! Crucify!” the Swedish punters shout (in Swedish with English subtitles).
As he relates this to his wife and later a shrink, he has two questions. “What have I done to them?” Yes, that’s the lone instance of “humor” here, and if you wonder why Swedish comedies aren’t exported the way their Strindberg/Bergman worshipping dramas are, there’s your answer.
The priest gulps sacramental wine before facing his congregation, tearfully muttering the same second question he’s asked his wife and his therapist.
“What am I to do now that I’ve lost my faith?”
The shrink may be making Andersson’s point in “About Endlessness” when he suggests one be “content with being alive.”
As that, like Andersson’s latest lovely but dense and ponderous film, isn’t much help to the suffering person it is spoken to, it’s as good an analog for the movie and its musings as any.
MPA Rating: unrated
Cast: Martin Serner, Tatiana Delaunay, Jan-Eje Ferling, Magnus Wallgren, narrated by Jessica Louthander.
Credits: Scripted and directed by Roy Andersson. A Magnolia release.
Running time: 1:16