Swedish filmmaker Roy Andersson is not a man who could be called prolific. Over his forty-year career, he’s made just a handful of films, but each has been exquisitely crafted. His last effort, 2014’s A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, won the Venice Film Festival’s top prize, the Golden Lion – much-deserved recognition that perhaps, finally, placed him among the greats in world cinema.
About Endlessness – reportedly the last film the 77-year-old will make – was another prize-winner, taking Best Director in Venice last year. For those who’ve seen his work, there will be something comfortably familiar about the style and structure – a series of droll comic vignettes that last just a few minutes each. Some are so brief as to barely register; others will leave a lasting impression.
Largely unconnected, at least superficially, many are remarkable to look at. The sight of soldiers marching endlessly – yes, there’s a theme here – in the Siberian snow. A young couple float hand-in-hand over the bombed ruins of Cologne. A priest despairs over his faith. A man is taunted as he drags a giant wooden cross, Jesus-like, through modern-day streets. The only constant comes as a young girl narrates the film, her hypnotic voiceover providing some link between these otherwise disparate sketches.
Andersson sets out to capture the very mundanity of existence, whether it is a woman tending to her shoe’s broken heel or a car engine failing. Yet juxtaposed to the banal are moments that examine the eternal and the human condition – musing on mortality, faith, suffering and horror.
It’s a dizzying collage alright, often seasoned by Andersson’s surreal, Python-esque sense of humour. At one point, Adolf Hitler (Magnus Wallgren) enters his bunker for the final time, virtually ignored by his fellow Nazis. Even the biggest moments of 20th Century history are reduced to faint ridicule.
Artistically, the film is splendid. Andersson’s level of control here is considerable; these studio-made skits are entirely under his command and his work with cinematographer Gergely Pálos is exemplary. The film may only run to around 76 minutes, but there feels enough humanity packed inside it to last you a lifetime.
About Endlessness is available on demand from 6 November. For more details, click here.