I'm thinking of dedicating my entire blog to Roy Andersson, simply because I like his work that much and there is easily that much that could be written about his films and advertisements. The Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival was able to prove its worth on its very first day of screenings with this film alone. (I had gotten wound up by a rumor that Sukoruv's film Alexandra would be shown from a tape rather than a 35mm print. This would be awful. I have yet to confirm or dispel this rumor, but I am glad to report that all three of the films I saw Friday night were from a 35mm print.)
You, The Living opens with a Goethe quote that is not only the namesake of the film but a rather light-hearted summation the content: "Be pleased then, you the living, in your delightfully warmed bed, before Lethe’s ice-cold wave will lick your escaping foot." You, The Living focuses entirely on the escaping foot, with no warmth in sight. In a series of vignettes, Andersson addresses human frailty and misery with uncompromising banality. Although it seems somewhat random, it is all tied together by the 20 to 30 actors who all show up at least a few times to either make an appearance in a bar, a doctor's office, a funeral or face to face with the camera.
Andersson's genius is in his aesthetics. Every shot is a carefully designed composition that rarely moves. His color palette goes from light blue to grey, with no full blacks and no full whites. He works entirely indoors, creating sets to suit his needs. The result is completely unique to Andersson's work, a look that is not only formally beautiful, but unsettling in it's deathly pallor. The same could be said about the characters who exist is a permanent purgatory of "Leth's ice-cold wave."
Andersson's previous film, Songs from the Second Floor, is arguably much more complex. With more of a narrative strain to work your head around, the style played second fiddle to the absurd and much more comedic thread. You, The Living frees you from bothering with any silly story to just enjoy the scenes, if you can, for what they are. Some might find Andersson's observations cruel, but personally I find his depiction of human fragility and peculiarity not only heartwarming but life affirming.