Sad Sackdom, Rendered Dreamlike, in You, the Living

You, the Living flips through 50-some single-panel vignettes, many very funny, arranged by Roy Andersson, a Swedish director best known for his commercial work and 2000's Songs From the Second Floor. An (almost always) stationary camera captures a procession of lugubrious Stockholmians; the caption to most of the stills could be "I can't go on."

Connections between scenes are loose, if any. Only a few characters recur. Each tableau is meticulously arranged; those built around gags tend to resonate longer than the few that only wallow in abjection. A heaplike fiftyish biker gal replays teen-angst classics ("Nobody understands me!") for her boyfriend in a public park. A man hunched over a walker obliviously drags his pet terrier behind him, tangled in its leash. A prematurely embalmed-looking fellow complains about his pension plans while his stout Brünnhilde of a wife mounts him. Andersson delights particularly in left-outs: the guy who can't squeeze into the busstop during a downpour; the natty little suitor getting his bouquet smashed in a slamming door; the odd-man guest at a haute bourgeoisie family dinner, preparing an idiotic party trick.

The sum total is the reflection of a worldview—sad sack, bordering on "Everybody Hurts" black-velvet sad-clown bathos—rather than any narrative. The return to a barroom at last call is a key refrain. Any available sunlight is a wan wash. Workplaces give the stale smell of upcoming bankruptcy. Andersson's models are largely the lumpen middle-aged and senile homunculi, a catalog of baldness patterns. The notable exception is a twentyish girl, seen getting herself picked up by the aloof, extravagantly coiffed frontman of the Black Devils, then wandering about, crying over her abandonment in jilted morning-aftermath. You, the Living, which slips into visualized dreamlife, later shows her reverie of rock-star domesticity in a bridal suite that one only gradually notices is gliding over the countryside, her groom ringing out a dulcet wedding solo when they pull into a station crowded with well-wishers.


You, the Living

You, the Living
Directed by Roy Andersson
Palisades Tartan
Opens July 29, Film Forum

The title comes from Goethe's Roman Elegies, an admonition to appreciate one's measure of life "before Lethe's ice-cold wave will lick your escaping foot." This I take to be one of Andersson's dry jokes, as his anhedonic characters already seem settled in Hades—a streetcar even lists Lethe as its destination. The actors' skin is zombie-palled with plastery powder, like a fallout of some unknown catastrophe—and the film is aptly bookended by apocalypse, a dream-premonition that's called back as a punchline.

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