The Swedish filmmaker Roy Andersson's latest film You, the Living is not easy to review. One of the reasons is that in his own words he has broken with the Anglo-Saxon tradition of story-telling, in all essence the template of most Western film productions. Another reason might be that although Roy Andersson is somewhat heavy on symbolisms, his, unlike those of, say, Andrei Tarkovsky, are of a more elusive nature. It took him 3 years to complete this 86 minute long film and it wasn't because he was forced to have long breaks between shootings due to financial troubles or problems with the actors. The film consists of 57 vignettes shot mostly by a still camera, and it was the careful design of each of these scenes which required much time. The imagery of this film which is closely related to the director's previous film Songs from the Second Floor is of utmost importance to the story, thus this story is told to a great degree by the surroundings and the environment in which the characters of Andersson's universe dwell and interact. Before each scene was finally shot, there would have been no less than 10 different test shootings with different actors, colors, dialog etc. The result is a dreamlike version of the surrounding world which most of us would recognize and if the setting is like a dream, why not dream a little? Just like in Bunuel's The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, when somebody says "Last night I had a dream", you get to watch it. But then again, what is perceived as reality here is not very much different from the dreams.
Despite the fact that the film lacks a plot in the traditional sense of the word and there are no main characters as such, the different characters who appear and reappear in different scenes still meet each other and their stories are inevitably intertwined. What most of these characters have in common is their apparent loneliness despite being surrounded by other people. The trailer trash chain smoking and binge drinking woman who dreams of having a motorbike so that she can get away from "all this crap", her corpulent and mostly silent boyfriend and his frail and seemingly gentle but rather absent-minded mother, members of a brass band whose skill improving efforts at home aren't getting a favorable reception neither from their families nor their neighbors, the depressed Middle Eastern hairdresser and his arrogant customer on his way to "a very important business meeting", an elderly man having a nightmare about bombers in the skies, a young girl dreaming about marrying the young rock star that she is so madly in love with. It's all about dreams and nightmares versus reality but it works as much as a statement in support of the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein's claims that "all human communication is miscommunication". People speak to each other but it is as if they speak past each other. They try to reach out to the others but shut the others out when those try to reach them.
You, the Living is a poetic film set physically in Stockholm but yet universally applicable. The society it portrays is Sweden, its artistic language and the people displayed are generally unmistakably Nordic. Yet, the subject it deals with, namely, the misery of the humankind in a selfish world, reaches far beyond this hemisphere. Despite the seriousness of its theme, the film itself seems a lot more cheerful and laden with humor than one might have expected. But in the words of the director himself "living is so complicated to each one of us that the only thing that saves us is our sense of humor". Hence, this film is a tragic comedy or a comic tragedy, depending on your sensitivities, and not a depressing black reality tour of the human nature. It is unusual in its language and structure, but if you can think outside the box and enjoy it, you will certainly find this film both entertaining and meaningful at the same time. It was shown at this year's Cannes festival as part of the Un Certain Regard program which offers "original and different works" outside the competition. After the film was shown in the Salle Debussy, the 1,000 strong audience gave it a standing ovation for several minutes. Do I need to say more?