Having finally wised-up to Roy Andersson after his excellent 2015 movie A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence, I decided I wanted to see more of the Swedish director’s work. A Pigeon… is the third part in Andersson’s thematically- and stylistically-linked ‘Living’ trilogy, whereas this 2000 film is the first; hopefully I’ll get round to the middle section, You, The Living, at some point in the future. The order doesn’t seem to me to matter all that much, though I am guessing you might witness a kind of honing of the style were you to watch them chronologically.
Songs From The Second Floor – like the other aforementioned films a collection of downbeat and blackly-comic vignettes – shares a certain aesthetic that will be familiar to Andersson watchers. The segments seem to take place in a world where everything has been coloured with light green and light yellow, giving the screen a constant swash that you might describe as ‘a milky pea-souper’. Added to this, the characters – Andersson’s preference is for non-professional actors – have been made-up to look pale and wan, as if they have unhealthy diets or have suffered Sweden’s lack of winter sun for too long in their lives. Subject-wise the director is mostly concerned with here industrial and workplace failure (factories burn down, jobs are lost) and economic woe (a group of protesting economists walk the streets, self-flagellating and causing terrible traffic jams that bring the city to its knees), so you could argue that Andersson predicted the 2007/08 global financial crisis several years before it happened. The pieces are tied together by repeated dialogue and the occasional reference to Peruvian poet César Vallejo, who during his life managed to stay a step ahead of literary currents; the Swedish director evidently considers him a kindred spirit of sorts.
It’s an unusual film, and far darker than the third installment; Andersson’s style and the subject matter won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but I like it very much. A relatively slow output (five feature films in 47 years at the time of writing) is the sign of a meticulous operator, though one must factor in a successful career in advertising (collections of his adverts are often screened with his films, though they’re available to watch for free online and are well worth seeking out). Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that Roy Andersson films don’t come along too often, and it’s apparent to me now that they ought to be treasured. I look forward to tracking down the others. (****)