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Du levande (You, The Living)

April 23, 2008

Imagine that a man stands before us all and says that this movie is dedicated to “You, The Living”.

And then some odd things happen.

There are a few titters and some people trundle home with a faint smile.

The next day they think they have seen a work of genius.

You, The Living is about the human condition. It is about us. It is about me, you, and everyone we know. Life, and that. Sometimes it captures the absurdities of just that subject, but always it tries for the absurdities of just that subject. Ultimately it is the absurdity that sticks.

There are a couple of scenes that stick, too, scenes that made me smile…but genius? Don’t make me laugh.

Actually, no, do make me laugh. Please.

Roy Andersson, the creator of this multi-award winning, highly lauded piece of nonsense has grabbed an absurdity all his own; that boring jokes, stagey sets and a little blob of street cred will grab you a mess of awards.

Don’t believe the hype. Just because it’s dedicated to you, doesn’t mean it’s for you.

[and, in a new irregular feature of the show, an addendum]

I was feeling sore about the brevity of it, although if you see the movie you might see what I was trying to do. Daft move. Don’t try style again, understood.

OK, so I’ll add a little more.

You, The Living starts off with a man lying on a couch, fast asleep. Outside, an approaching train gets louder and louder and then goes by (unseen, his apartment is clearly quite a way up), waking him. He sits bolt upright and looks really startled. Then he addresses the audience and tells us he had a bad dream. Similar dreamers punctuate the film every 20 minutes or so, each of them then going on to describe their dream. Between these sections there are sketches, normally 90 seconds or so in length, each describing a facet of human emotion or interaction, the vast majority taking place in single static shot formality.

Once in a while, a character already seen will pop up in another’s sketch. An austere and overlit bar is used as a vague meeting place for some of the repeated characters, but there’s no attempt to layer the connectivity any deeper than that.

It’s baffling and confusing and – tellingly, for me – the most affecting sequences are the longest ones; one, where a man describes trying to do the pull-a-tablecloth-from-under-a-fully-set-table trick, and another where a girl has a fantasy wedding to her rock star idol. In both, the central characters break out of the one-shot routine and actually get to move around and do things. These two sequences are very good, and the tablecloth guy in particular is terrifically funny and, yes, he made me laugh out loud.

But then, I laughed at Little Britain once.

In the end, I looked at the poster on the way out and thought, “‘gales of laughter’? Are you having a laugh?” Now, I don’t want to come across a Philistine, but really, it’s just not very good at all.

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