January 28, 2010

See: You, the Living

Filmed over the span of almost three years and comprised of some 50 loosely-connected vignettes, Roy Andersson's You, The Living unspools like a Tsai Ming-Liang film directed by Emir Kuristica, with a heaping teaspoon of Jacques Tati and a dash of Monty Python thrown in to give it flavor. The film is beautifully composed and lit with an even light, giving the images a slightly pale quality that enhances the overall effect of the film. The director has said, ""I want light where people can't hide in—light without mercy," and yet one feels a strong sympathy for the characters and their situations. The locations are all sets, and much has been made of the time in which it took to create each one. At times, I was given to think of the papercraft creations of Thomas Demand.

The film has no plot to speak of. Characters come and go, occasionally addressing the audience directly. A few characters reappear, and the film includes multiple vignettes that follow their fortunes and dreams. The camera is mostly static, observing their actions and recording their thoughts. Each scene is carefully choreographed, and precisely performed.

Andersson approached people on the street to act in the film, and the majority of the roles were assumed by non-professional actors. The film is so stylized that to have famous or professional actors assume the roles would be almost a distraction. Andersson has also remarked that it would be embarassing to ask actors to play such minor roles.

The title refers to a quotation by Goethe, "Be pleased then, you the living, in your delightfully warmed bed, before Lethe's ice-cold wave will lick your escaping foot," which served as the inspiration for the film, and which preceds the film. It's a film about the "grandeur of existing," without being weighed down by the gradeur of that statement. Andersson's motto when making the film, taken from a work of Icelandic literature, was "man is man's delight." In You, the Living he delights us with his intent.

You, the Living. Roy Andersson, 1997. 95 min.

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