Andersson. Roy Andersson is one of the most important and accomplished filmmakers of the 21st century- certainly the best Swedish filmmaker not named Ingmar Bergman. Up there behind perhaps only Ozu when it comes to cinematic compositions (Dreyer, Greenaway, Antonioni, Imamura, Wes Anderson). This spot here at #176 is a place-holder. I just finished my Andersson study (this list is always a work in progress in need of updating) so there are no top 500 of all-time films or top 100 of the decade below but that will be remedied in future updates. I had run into Songs From the Second Floor in the early 2000’s and just wasn’t ready for it. It was my fault. Andersson did make at least two films prior to his breakthrough in 2000- but I haven’t been able to find them. He then spent the bulk of the 1980’s and 1990’s (from my understanding) making commercials. Songs From the Second Floor (2000) and the ensuing “Living Trilogy” were labors of love, highly ambitious. Andersson’s work is rigid in the aesthetic approach, thematically resonant and consistent.

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Up there behind perhaps only Ozu when it comes to cinematic compositions

Best film: Songs From the Second Floor

  • Andersson’s 3rd feature I believe, but his first in 25 years. If I’m not mistaken this is his first film in this gathered, unique style.
  • fixed camera (there’s one camera movement in the train vignette), with the mise-en-scene so meticulously designed and curated, no editing within the individual vignettes (64 individual vignettes shot in a two-stage studio built for this film, shot over four years), so that makes for a decently long average shot length
  • Starts with the Caesar Vallejo quote- a Peruvian poet— “blessed is the one who sits down” repeated often in the text. Great form here- repetition like a Coen brothers film- another one “he wrote poetry until he went nuts”
  • often moving slow or not at all, to simulate a painting– melancholic deadpan
  • Then starts with the tanning booth, the unseen corporate monster who sets the wheels in motion for the apocalypse essentially
  • Another vignette- his wife begs him to skip work for the first time in years and make love to her, instead he says he has to go to work and gets fired, and begs his boss on his hands and knees in the hall as onlookers do nothing (a motif for sure)
  • Irony, pain, it’s an absurdist hell driven by commerce (so much repetition in the dialogue here too like “a few extra zeros”- salesman speak) , an endless traffic jam (again and again in the background) it is Armageddon, people in business suits self-flagellation in the background—another motif—like plague scene in Bergman’s (another Swede) in The Seventh Seal
  • The bar frame is bliss at 17 minutes—one of the greatest examples of mise-en-scene in recent cinema—the film is essentially a series of paintings. Background and foreground of equal importance. The characters are set up in a tableau format, often moving slow or not at all, some even embracing the camera in a melancholic deadpan
The bar frame is bliss at 17 minutes—one of the greatest examples of mise-en-scene in recent cinema—the film is essentially a series of paintings. Background and foreground of equal importance. The characters are set up in a tableau format, often moving slow or not at all, some even embracing the camera in a melancholic deadpan
  • There’s more study to be done here but Andersson is a master of framing the hallway and objects in parallel to the main character or object in the frame— it reminds me of Kubrick’s use of hallways in The Shining
  • The careful arrangement of everything in the frame is Tati (who had a thing or two to say about the absurdity of modernity as well), a bit of Ozu of course— Andersson doesn’t move the camera) and when he starts a vignette it plays without edit—this is Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Paradise—but certainly this is more picturesque
  • Andersson doesn’t move the camera) and when he starts a vignette it plays without edit—this is Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Paradise—but certainly this is more picturesque
  • Dogmatic its approach—so rigid—but not without flourishes like the singing on the subway/tube—not unlike the Aimee Mann sing along flourish in PTA’s Magnolia the year before in 1999
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Dogmatic its approach—so rigid—but not without flourishes like the singing on the subway/tube—not unlike the Aimee Mann sing along flourish in PTA’s Magnolia the year before in 1999
  • Andersson’s arrangements of bodies in the frame surpasses even the tableau work of Wes Anderson (who really hadn’t done this much in 2000—his best tableau work came after this) or Peter Greenaway—we’re talking about maybe the opening of Visconti’s The Leopard or something here.
  • I see some Fassbinder here as well with the tragic existence in impeccable frames
  • 64 individual vignettes shot in a two-stage studio built for this film, shot over four years
  • An ensemble film of biting mishaps and catastrophes
  • A salesman selling religious icons thinking they will be a big seller, dialogue like “I already have a cross to bear”
  • The makeup is expressionistic—washed out characters, desaturated of all color like zombies—and sure enough a man encounters another man who committed suicide
  • The makeup is expressionistic—washed out characters, desaturated of all color like zombies—and sure enough a man encounters another man who committed suicide — more evidence to this world being Andersson’s hell
  • The film does have some weaker frames and some stronger, it seems back-loaded with the strongest ones- but that could also by that after you adjust yourself to the strict form and rhythm of the film you appreciate it more and more.
  • The film does have some weaker frames and some stronger, it seems back-loaded with the strongest ones- but that could also by that after you adjust yourself to the strict form and rhythm of the film you appreciate it more and more.
  • At 74 minutes the frame full of extras with the child off the diving board—spectacle, damnation, not unlike say Fellini’s idol scene in La Dolce Vita– there’s a paper in the comparison of those two films I think
  • The 77 minutes shot at the bar is a stunner—the two bar shots here make for some of the greatest mise-en-scenes in recent memory– a moving painting- this is Greenaway—Wes would do this and then some in a brilliant tracking shot in The Darjeeling Limited
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The 77 minutes shot at the bar is a stunner—the two bar shots here make for some of the greatest mise-en-scenes in recent memory– a moving painting- this is Greenaway—Wes would do this and then some in a brilliant tracking shot in The Darjeeling Limited
  • At 79 minutes the pushing luggage sequence—amazing
  • At 81 with Thomas in bed and two in the background—wow – a “crazy” patient at the hospital talking about Jesus—Dreyer’s Ordet (speaking of a master of the frame)
  • Christ in the trash pile with figures in the distance slowing walking up—this is like from revelations- one character says “what in the hell is this?”- meaning literal hell. Tarkovsky’s The Sacrifice. Ends like a Romero film.
  • Sharp, droll, devastating
  • Both impressive and accompanying—Benny Andersson’s score- he’s from ABBA
  • One of the worst reviews call it the most original of the 23 features competing at Cannes in 2000
  • A Masterpiece

total archiveable films: 3

top 100 films:  0

top 500 films:   0

top 100 films of the decade:   0

most overrated: Andersson doesn’t have an overrated film. Songs is doing really well on the TSPDT consensus list for a 21st century film. It sits at #510 overall. You, The Living isn’t doing terrible either for a film from 2007—at #1498. Both should keep climbing

most underrated :  A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence currently sits at #35 for just 2014 on the TSPDT and this is a big swing and a miss. I guess I can’t knock it too much as it took me six years to get to it myself- but it is self-evident that this is one of the very best films of 2014.

  • The final film of Roy Andersson’s “Living trilogy”—one of the great feats of cinema in the 21st century—the compositions are among the greatest in cinema history—it is on that level
  • Winner of the Golden Lion in Venice
  • Andersson proclaims it as part of a trilogy in the titles
  • inspired by the painting The Hunters in the Snow by Pieter Bruegel the Elder—Andersson sites The Bicycle Thieves as inspiration but I think that’s just a work of art that stirs him
  • Starts with Andersson’s trademark slow-moving (almost Romero-like) heavy-makeup pale zombie-like characters in a museum then goes into a with a series of semi-comical semi-depressive deaths
  • Andersson’s trademark color palate with a slight tweak, we have the overcast grays and life-sucking bland colors—but here he adds his sort of faded yellow or mustard color. Certainly a visual motif (in a film already loaded with visual and formal traits)
  • Open doorway akin to Ozu in most vignettes
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Open doorway akin to Ozu in most vignettes — frames within frames
  • Like the other films in Andersson’s oeuvre it has great reviews from critics—but a few seem to be ready for him to try something else. I couldn’t disagree more—Andersson is Ozu in this regard—he could remake the same film over and over. Please do.
  • The dry novelty toy salesman in deadpan—hilarious, melancholy, sometimes in the same vignette—many of the characters reappear in multiple vignettes but they are the closest to a narrative vehicle here
  • Many candidates for 2014’s greatest mise-en-scene frame—28 minutes there’s a regular at a bar (for 60 years)– Limping Lotta’s bar — and then goes into a flashback to 1943 (time travel a big part of Pigeon for the first time in Andersson’s films). Andersson’s shots of bars and restaurants are some of his greatest and his work here is no exception
  • The elaborate shot of soldiers in the background and foreground in the king sequence is one of the film’s highlights as well. Stunning. Songs From the Second Floor had traffic jams and self-flagellation—and it is an undertaking equal to the moving house sequence in You, the Living
The elaborate shot of soldiers in the background and foreground in the king sequence is one of the film’s highlights as well. Stunning. Songs From the Second Floor had traffic jams and self-flagellation—and it is an undertaking equal to the moving house sequence in You, the Living
  • Corporate slaves (certainly an ongoing theme) self-flagellation. The actors are posing for long stretches or moving very very slowly as if in a living painting (again, I throw “painterly” around too much probably as a compliment to certain auteurs and frames but it never more justified than this).
  • Lines like “we’ve been dealing with people who don’t pay” – the salesmen say to their debtors – just like their debtors said to them- devastating. In one scene he says “it’s so beautiful—and horribly sad, too” describing a folk song that shakes him
  • The coffee stand and fence painted yellow in the vignette with woman working in background in the open door. One of 25 or so frames I’d proudly mount on my wall or gawk at in a museum
  • Twice, characters with lonely looks on their faces hear the “you have no messages” when checking their voicemail. In one scene, the man sees people, in a group, laughing together and having a good time in the restaurant.
  • Moves back and forth in time to document (like only Andersson can) abuses of power, the horrifying scene of slaves being massacred, the king throwing women out of the bar
  • Some compositions (again, like 20+ of the 39 total) are astonishing and I relished very second of Andersson holding the take for the duration- others aren’t as strong and with Andersson’s no cut, and long take aesthetic – you can feel their length 
  • Yet another jaw-dropper- the tableau of old-timers
  • The apartments are shot as modern day prisons — and again Andersson with is trademark hallway work and perfection of angles- it’s Kubrickian — almost mathematical
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The apartments are shot as modern day prisons — and again Andersson with is trademark hallway work and perfection of angles- it’s Kubrickian — almost mathematical
  • Actors (really they are models like Bresson, even more so—posing)—embrace the camera, often in deadpan, sitting on the edge of the bed
  • The dry ending—talking about whether it’s Wednesday or Thursday—
  • A Must-See film upon first viewing
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A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence currently sits at #35 for just 2014 on the TSPDT and this is a big swing and a miss. I guess I can’t knock it too much as it took me six years to get to it myself- but it is self-evident that this is one of the very best films of 2014.

gem I want to spotlight : You, the Living

  • You, the Living is Roy Andersson’s second in a trilogy that starts with 2000’s Songs From the Second Floor and concludes with 2013’s A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
  • You, the Living confirms the genius (yep, genius) behind Songs From the Second Floor was no fluke or happy accident but an auteur in complete control, a meticulously constructed—beautiful frames, painterly, rigid editing structure and aesthetics
  • Goethe quote in the opening
  • First vignette the character is talking to the camera really about his dream (a nightmare in this case)—bombers coming. This will happen again and again in the film
  • The second vignette is a sing-along—music (the ironically upbeat ragtime jazz score, tuba, drummer, guitarist) is a prevalent motif
  • Teacher that cries in front of her student, a sad statement on man, who instead of exercising naturally is like a hamster or mouse on a wheel in this awful basement and perfectly depressing treadmill, pathetic businessmen and women huddled together like lemmings at a bus stop or in an elevator
  • A hazy overcast gray pervades most frames… characters are pale like zombies, lifeless world around them — matches the sorrow that permeates each vignette
  • 18 minutes in the guy in the pickup in traffic talking to the camera about a dream
  • Apocalyptic, nightmare visions- one nightmare a man ruins this fine china and three judges drinking beer sentence him to the electric chair
  • A gorgeous frame at 28 minutes- guy in love seat with dog
  • One distinct tracking shot is the singing standing on chairs at the jubilee— stands out because the rest of the shots in the film are so similarity constructed – Andersson is showing off the set piece
  • a breathtaking tableau of the Louisiana brass band playing upbeat music to a massive thunderstorm at 37 minutes. One of 30 sustained shots here that belong on a wall in an art museum
a breathtaking tableau of the Louisiana brass band playing upbeat music to a massive thunderstorm at 37 minutes. One of 30 sustained shots here that belong on a wall in an art museum
  • Many of the frames are among the best images in cinema 2007 (yes, even in 2007), some appear to be duds (like the opener) but come back around later as they’re connected to one of the other 49 vignettes. Formally rigid. No cuts, no camera movement, attention to background as much as foreground, Ozu-like open doors, Jim Jarmusch-like scene construction, Tati-like mise-en-scene detail
  • Andersson’s characters embrace the camera in an open stance like in a painting—and he’s the master of angles. He builds his own sets in a studio because I don’t think you could find it.
  • Many of the frames are among the best images in cinema 2007 (yes, even in 2007), some appear to be duds (like the opener) but come back around later as they’re connected to one of the other 49 vignettes. Formally rigid. No cuts, no camera movement, attention to background as much as foreground, Ozu-like open doors, Jim Jarmusch-like scene construction, Tati-like mise-en-scene detail
  • Andersson’s characters embrace the camera in an open stance like in a painting—and he’s the master of angles. He builds his own sets in a studio because I don’t think you could find it.
  • Reoccurring motif- formal– last call for alcohol at the bar again and again
  • The 78 minute shot-  singing in the bathroom tub— man behind immaculate doorway frame within a frame The 78 minute shot-  singing in the bathroom tub— man behind immaculate doorway frame within a frame
  • Throughout the film you see characters looking out of the windows into the sky like Emma Stone in Birdman sort of – you won’t know why entire the final shot of the film, like Songs we’re ending with an apocalypse, ironically upbeat music
  • A Must See film

stylistic innovations/traits:

  • Like Ozu, an absolute master of the composition of the frame, painterly— and static camera like Ozu
  • formally rigid, dogmatic in stylistic approach
  • Tableau shots like Greenaway or Davies, symmetry like Wes Anderson, Tati, open doors like Ozu or Visconti to create a frame within a frame
Tableau shots like Greenaway or Davies, symmetry like Wes Anderson, Tati, open doors like Ozu or Visconti to create a frame within a frame — desaturated colors
  • Droll humor, melancholic deadpan, exaggerated color palette (towards the drab—gray, desaturated blues and yellows) and makeup like Romero’s Dawn of the Dead
  • Long takes, vignettes, no edits in scene like Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Paradise
  • Starts the film with a quote or poem, anti-capitalist (or at least anti-corporation), skeptical of modernity (hello Tati), chilling ironies,
  • Great use of architecture and angles in his frames like Kubrick’s The Shining specifically- Andersson shoots his work in studio, total control- custom, planned and detailed
  • The characters are more like models, moving slowly to give more credence to Andersson really creating a series of moving paintings that belong in a collection together. The models often embrace the camera
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from Pigeon– Andersson the master of the tableau shot

top 10

  1. Songs From the Second Floor
  2. You, the Living
  3. A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence

By year and grades

2000- Songs From the Second Floor MP
2007- You, the Living MS
2014- A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence MS

*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives