About Endlessness (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): About Absurdness

Roy Andersson’s latest film “About Endlessness”, which won the Silver Lion award for Best Direction when it was shown at the 2019 Venice International Film Festival, is as dry, absurd, and melancholic as you can expect from his work. Again, we are served with a bundle of many different weird comic scenes held together via the amusingly drab overall tone hovering over the film, and you will probably come to enjoy them once you are willing to embrace that distinctive mood and style of the movie.

After the opening scene which is clearly a homage to Marc Chagall’s 1918 painting “Over the Town”, the movie shows a man climbing up a stair with lots of stuffs held by his arms, and then he talks directly to us. Looking quite miserable to say the least, this dude tells a bit about how miserable his life has been, and the camera simply regards him from its static position until he looks all the more pathetic at the end of his speech.

In case of a Catholic priest who is clearly depressed, the movie depicts his hopeless melancholy via several scenes. At first, he is struggling to carry a big cross while wearing a thorny crown just like a certain famous historical figure, and he is also frequently flagellated by some of people following after him. As watching this very absurd moment, I was instantly reminded of that hilarious moment of group self-flagellation in “Songs from the Second Floor” (2000), which is the first film of Andersson’s Living Trilogy. Even though I did not wholly understand what this scene means, it felt fairly funny to me, and I came to have more expectation on whatever I would get next during my viewing.

And the movie did not disappoint me with the priest’s next scene, which is unfolded between him and his doctor. The priest seeks for any help or advice from his doctor, but the doctor does not seem to be that interested in that while flatly interacting with the priest. During the subsequent scene, we see the priest trying to go through a religious ceremony, and the mood becomes a bit anxious as the camera statically observes his apparently problematic condition from the distance.

And the movie continues to look at other different people, who are all dealing with their rather dull and cheerless existence in the world which simply seems to be moving onto one day after another without much care or attention. In one certain brief scene, the camera simply looks at a female business executive wordlessly looking outside from her big office, and the narrator of the film phlegmatically tells us that she is “incapable of feeling shame.” Although she does not reveal much, we can clearly sense her barren state of mind when she looks back at us at the end of this scene.

While steadily maintaining the grey atmosphere surrounding its various figures, the movie shows some little warmth and tenderness at times. In the scene unfolded at a train station, we see a man gladly welcomed by his family members shortly after a train’s arrival, and then we see a woman getting off from the train and then being left alone for a while – until she is eventually greeted by someone who seems to be close to her.

My little favourite moment in the film is involved with three young women who happen to drop by a certain public place. As the music is played in the background, they begin to dance together while others are amused and entertained by that, and their plucky spirit is palpable to us although the movie deliberately places them on one side of the screen from the beginning.

I also like a couple of scenes involved with one troubled dentist with some personal issue. He tries to handle his latest patient on one winter day, but things do not go that well due to both of them, and he eventually walks out from the scene with his patient helplessly left with his assistant. We soon see him at a bar with several others while it is snowing outside, and he remains glum and sour, even when one stranger tries to communicate a bit with him.

During its second half, the movie becomes more melancholic than before. We get a short scene showing Hitler’s last day in his bunker, and the movie later shows a bunch of defeated Nazi German soldiers trudging to somewhere. Around the end of the film, we meet again that miserable guy who appears around the beginning of the movie, and he remains pathetic as before while complaining about his life again in front of the camera – with, to our little amusement, his wife in the background.

While observing how the movie eventually arrives at its very last scene which resonates a lot with its very title, I came to reflect more on how Andersson has been consistent in terms of form, style, and mood during last two decades. Like his Living trilogy, the movie firmly sticks to its dry and absurd sense of humor coupled with a considerable level of melancholy, and that is often accentuated by its muted color scheme as well as the pale façade of the human figures in the film.

Although I am not so sure about whether “About Endlessness” is as great as the Living Trilogy, and it sometimes feels like a mere footnote in comparison, but I enjoyed its offbeat humor and melancholic beauty at least. I did not laugh as much as I expected, but I still admire its artistic qualities nonetheless, and I think you should check it out if you admire the Living Trilogy as much as I do.

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