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Film review: About Endlessness

20 November 2020

Stephen Brown sees films made by, and about, Roy Andersson

A still from the priest’s dream in About Endlessness

A still from the priest’s dream in About Endlessness

ACCORDING to Roy Andersson, director of About Endlessness (Cert. 12A), his film could just as well be called About Inexhaustibility/Infinity/Existence. In a series of tableaux, he depicts the human condition. Nearly every scene is entirely shot from a fixed point of view, as if we were pilgrims perhaps, participating in the Stations of the Cross.

A priest dreams of carrying a cross through Stockholm’s streets while he is whipped and a crowd demands crucifixion. He cries: “What have I done wrong?” Later, when visiting a psychiatrist, the man desperately asks: “What shall I do now that I have lost my faith?”. Unfortunately, this goes unanswered. The doctor has a bus to catch. Before mass, the priest wantonly swigs communion wine, then totters out to administer the sacrament.

Not everything is hopeless. We witness Hitler’s defeat, soaring lovers, three teenage girls joyously dancing outside a cafe. In another vignette, a young man explains the first law of thermodynamics to a girl sitting opposite, straightening her hair. Energy is endless. It can only transform into something new. It may take millions of years, he says, but you could return as a potato or a tomato. His companion opts for the latter.

Almost simultaneously with this film, Curzon has released Fred Scott’s documentary about the director, Being A Human Person (no BBFC certificate). It comes as no surprise how influenced Andersson is by fine art. His earlier films contain rather more Goyaesque images of inhumanity than the latest. About Endlessness owes much to the Elder Bruegel’s insouciant figures and the isolation of an Edward Hopper portrait. There is even an ethereal touch of Chagall about the piece.

Less cruelty and more hope possibly informs Andersson’s new film than his award-winning A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence. This latest venture (alleged to be his final one while he is currently working on a new project) doesn’t have many laugh-out-loud moments, unlike previous work. But even then the humour was often viewed through tears of sadness at the pity of it all.

Andersson comes over more as smiling depressive than a stereotypically gloomy Swede. He proclaims himself an optimist, quoting with approval in the documentary the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber. While lamenting the endless stream of atrocities in history, Buber says that human beings can also make up for it by worshipping life in other situations. There may be a crown of thorns hanging on one of Andersson’s walls, but in his world each new day lies open before us with all its potential.

After the title sequence, a couple sitting on a park bench notice a flock of birds flying to warmer climes. “It’s September already,” the woman says. The film ends with the return of migrating birds, as if echoing Shelley’s question “If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?” During the credits, the St Petersburg Chamber Choir sing “Alleluia, behold the Bridegroom” with its line “But light thy lamp, and feed it well, and make it bright with oil.” Andersson strives to do just that.

Available at curzonhomecinema.com

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