Absolutely revelatory – a singular artist with a fully-realized aesthetic, worldview, and formal structure
Images that have stayed with me for days
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”
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
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
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
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 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 board room frame- exceptional at 63 minutes
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
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