Tuesday, July 28, 2009

"You, The Living"

NOTE: This review was originally published on July 23, 2008. I repost it now in conjunction with the film's US theatrical premiere at the Film Forum in NYC tomorrow, July 29.

Every once in a while you come across a movie that you absolutely love, but can't quite articulate why - something so beautiful and unique that the only real response that seems to fit is a satisfied cinematic sigh.

The last time I remember feeling this way was after watching Miranda July's delightfully off-kilter Me and You and Everyone We Know. And now after seeing Roy Andersson's sublime, dreamlike You, The Living, I got to feel it all over again.

You, The Living is a film that is hard to describe, not to mention sum up in a brief review. It doesn't have a plot, or a story for that matter. It is a mosaic in the Magnolia vein, by way of Jacques Tati.

In the film we are introduced to a series of disparate characters, some who show up again, and some who don't. It is a celebration of life in all of its singular sorrow and beauty, humor and heartbreak, told though a series of absurdly comic and strangely poignant vignettes.

The film opens with a quote by Goethe: "Be pleased then, you the living, in your delightfully warmed bed, before Lethe's ice-cold wave will lick your escaping foot," and then takes us on a strange and haunting journey though life and its trials as it might be imagined by Luis Buñuel.

We are introduced to an overweight woman who is breaking up with her boyfriend on a park bench, wailing that no one understands her. We meet her again later in a similar situation in a restaurant, where much of the movie takes place, and where a young girl meets a rock star she idolizes and falls in love in a romance that only works out in her own fantasies.

We also meet a tuba player whose constant practicing drives those around him crazy enough to bang holes in their own ceilings to get him to stop, a disgruntled barber who takes his frustrations out with his hair trimmer, and a couple whose marital woes spill over into their workplaces. And the characters just keep coming, each one just as odd and troubled as the one before.

But throughout each segment, no matter how short or how long, whether it is a recurring character or a brief clip, there is an undercurrent of childlike wonder at the very act of being that is nothing short of breathtaking. It's not a perfect film, and some of the vignettes don't work as well as others, but what a thrill, what a joy, to be so alive in such a unique and beautiful world.

The film was shot mostly on soundstages, and their artificiality is part of the film's charm. It adds to the film's singularly peculiar atmosphere, creating a place somewhere between dreams and reality. You, The Living is a film that exists in that place of being between being asleep and being awake, seeming to make sense at first even though it really doesn't.

What is going on here though isn't just strangeness for strangeness' sake. As the opening scene foreshadows impending doom, life goes on, and just as Goethe's quote extols the blissful ignorance before a violent end, Andersson seems to alternate between satirizing his characters and gazing at them with a loving eye. For better or for worse, they are alive. And You, The Living embraces that with every fiber of its being. Glorious, beautiful, bizarre, unbridled life.

GRADE - ★★★½ (out of four)

YOU, THE LIVING; Directed by Roy Andersson; Stars Jessica Lundberg, Elisabeth Helander, Bjorn England, Leif Larsson, Olle Olson; Not Rated; In Swedish w/English subtitles; Opens tomorrow, 7/29, at the Film Forum in NYC.

3 comments:

Daniel Getahun said...

Had you included that note at the top I would have been really confused, since I knew I'd seen this title floating around for like two years. I never realized it didn't make it out of festivals.

Well I hope to check it out based on your very interesting description.

Sam Juliano said...

Well, I am in a position to take advantage of this July 29th opening at the Film Forum, and based in large measure on your positive review, I will be sure to be there.

Matthew Lucas said...

Daniel, it was one of the films that, like SILENT LIGHT, got caught up in limbo when Tartan went under, which is probably why it's just now making it onto US screens.

Sam, I hope you like it. It's one of my favorites of the year!