If you’ve seen a film by Roy Andersson (Songs from the Second Floor, You, the Living, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence), you will largely know what to expect from his newest, About Endlessness. Once again, the film is replete with vignettes overflowing with sardonic pessimism, each scene depicted ghoul-faced everymen and women trudging amidst unceasing urban isolation and anonymity. Yet, despite its predictability, Andersson’s modus operandi still offers pleasures and insights galore.
Once again, there’s little plot to speak of. The single-take scenes hop around among characters, some of them in ongoing stories and some never seen again. Some even leap backward in time, like the one where Adolf Hitler’s underlings eke out half-hearted “Sieg hiel”s as the bunker comes down around their ears. But the trappings are still there; the dry absurdity, the desaturated sets, the crowd noises despite the lack of crowds. Andersson certainly has a style.
And that style is, more often than not, incredibly and darkly funny. Andersson’s fascination with the grotesquely mundane remains Monty Python-esque. In an early scene, a middle aged man recounts to the camera an interaction with an old schoolmate who still holds a grudge against him, only for that very same schoolmate to walk through the frame and grumpily ignore the man’s attempt to say hello. Andersson’s refusal to sweeten the comedy of the moment, instead leaving it tragically arid, is hilarious.
If About Endlessness has any story at all, it’s that of the priest (Martin Serner) who, like all movie priests, is undergoing a crisis of faith. Seen going to the doctor or swigging the sacramental wine before drunkenly delivering the eucharist, he gets more screen time than any other character. When asked about remaining a priest despite his lack of belief, he responds, “It’s my livelihood.” This cynical depiction of the intersection of religion and commerce is, again, not unfamiliar in Andersson’s work.
Familiar as so much of About Endlessness is, what keeps it lively and urgent is the burning anger under Andersson’s superficial lethargy. His fury at the destructiveness and obstruction of societal traditions is on display at every turn, most devastatingly in a vignette depicting the aftermath of a father murdering his own daughter to “protect his family’s honor.” As Andersson sees it, our entire world is in crisis. We refuse to address it because it would be inconvenient to the established order of things and thus we are all dying of neglect.