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Claus Mueller


Claus Mueller is filmfestivals.com  Senior New York Correspondent

He is based in New York where he covers the festival scene, professor at Hunter University, accredited member of the Foreign Press Center,  U.S. Department of State NY.


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About Endlessness, Roy Andersson, Sweden 2019

ABOUT ENDLESSNESS is a startling departure from Roy Andersson’s previous films with long sequences  documenting gruesome events presented in a social context. In Andersson’s 1991 short, WORLD OF GLORY, there are carefully composed images of nude women and children forced into the large hold of a diesel truck to be killed by a hose attached to the truck’s exhaust. There is no commentary. But the images include a group of well-dressed official-looking men and women closely observing what is happening,  hearing the piercing screams of the captives.  After the  doors to the truck are locked, muting their screams, viewers see a  man next to the truck looking into the camera, thus making the audience of the film participants of the massacre. The bystanders did not intervene. In his 2007 feature, YOU THE PEOPLE, Andersson depicts uniformed officers and soldiers forcing men, women, and children into a giant  copper drum, whilst whipping the chained slaves, closing it, and setting a fire beneath the drum. The drum starts rotating  and  roasting the prisoners. Suddenly the image shifts to a luxurious mansion with  curtains to a large window  drawn and doors opened. A  group of tuxedo clad elders are served champagne and observe the rotating drum. They show no reactions. In both sequences  there is the message of an upscale bourgeois audience being indifferent to the cruelty and murder they observe.

In ABOUT ENDLESSNESS there is no obvious link between cruelty, reflecting moral violations, subjective suffering, the society which fosters them, or the value systems guiding perpetrators and victims. There is no linear logical link tying the close to 30 vignettes together. Broad interpretative parameters are missing or are offered in the scarce voiceover  brief comments for most of the miniaturized episodes. In the vignettes most of the people appear to be homeless, not rooted in any apparent firm conviction, yet acting with some set of programmed responses derived from the modern world they inhabit.

Roy Andersson continues his masterly control of the acclaimed cinematic production present in his earlier films while adding the multifaceted expression of personal compassion, anguish, duress, and suffering. Like a painter, Andersson’s precise cinematography immerses the audience; everything is depicted but  left to the viewer to decipher the underlying connections. Colors chosen are muted and subdued.  There is rarely any brightness in the images nor are there fast paced movements. The characters shown appear static, portrayed by a rarely moving camera with few cuts and wide angles. They do not seem to engage in communication beyond matter of fact and often redundant statements alongside the frequent prevalence of silence. These verbal exchanges leave little space for the use of language or the creation of meaning. With some exceptions, the characters are displayed in confined private and public spaces designed by Andersson. This production uses his own large studio, funded by his commercial ventures, granting him complete control of the  sets and images created.

As distinct from  his prior films, Andersson maintains a neutral stand in ABOUT ENDLESSNESS. This adds to the intoxicating and compelling impact of the film. He presents a never-ending tableau of the elements of our everyday life, the relative absence of reciprocity and communication, yet leaving the space for emotions even if experienced just in isolation. The audience is provided with a guide to his cascading perspectives on the human condition, a woman’s brief voiceover drawing attention to what she sees in most vignettes. Andersson received the best director’s prize at the Venice Film Festival for ABOUT ENDLESSNESS, continuing his track record at the festival. This award, certifying his continued creative innovation, does not surprise but still amazes. Given the film’s  structure of more than 30 mini-episodes covering a broad range of mental states, from the experience of despair and compassion to  isolation and silence. They are difficult to review under a common denominator, yet there are some connecting strains in these vignettes:

A priest has lost his faith and  has a nightmare about being whipped, carrying a cross while shouting “what have I done wrong”.  The priest cannot ascertain through psychotherapy the Ingmar Bergman question of why God abandoned him. He tells the doctor “May be God does not exist - if so what is there to believe in”.  The doctor responds that he  does not work for free and must leave to catch his bus.    The priest drinks before he starts a service, visibly inebriated to his practitioners.    

An elderly man wakes up screaming that nails were driven through his hands.    

A couple loudly assures their son at his grave that they will take care of the plot to avoid his embarrassment by  friends.   

A man is not  acknowledged on a street by a former schoolmate and is hurt by the rejection due to his former friend having a PhD while he has no advanced education.

Watched by others in the background, a father cradles with a large knife in his hand the bloodied body of his daughter he killed  to save the honor of the family.

In the darkness of the night a long stream of German prisoners of war march towards their Siberian destination.

A loving couple is floating  through the air like angels over the destroyed city of Cologne, smiling as if setting the tone for a rebirth; in the background are the images of a broken bridge and the towering  unharmed cathedral.

Hitler is surrounded by several half-drunk generals in his Berlin bunker saluting while listening to bombs falling on the capital.

Invoking love as his excuse a man abuses his former companion in a supermarket.

A dentist stops treating a pained patient midway and walks out to get a drink in the next bar.

Two older depressed  people fail to make a living  selling odd items which make people laugh.

Three young women stop their bikes in front of a countryside restaurant singing joyfully for three  men eating on the outside.

A group of sailors enjoy free drinks and hugs in a restaurant.  

In a desolate area, soldiers tie a civilian to a post to be executed while he pleads for mercy.

Roy Andersson provides exquisite insights into the flow of absurdities of everyday life, immuring people in the frozen constraints of their habits and preconceptions. There is only restricted face to face interaction and he allows little space for relief and the articulation of emotions.  ABOUT ENDLESSNESS is a cinematic masterpiece. The reader can gain  insights of Andersson’s artistic acumen by watching  his Golden Lion wining 2014 feature “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence” on Amazon Prime Video.

 

New York, Claus Mueller

filmexchange@gmail.com

 

 

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