Combustible Celluloid
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With: Martin Serner, Jessica Louthander, Tatiana Delaunay, Anders Hellström, Jan Eje Ferling, Bengt Bergius, Thore Flygel
Written by: Roy Andersson
Directed by: Roy Andersson
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: Swedish, with English subtitles
Running Time: 76
Date: 04/30/2021

About Endlessness (2021)

4 Stars (out of 4)

I Saw Someone

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

About Endlessness is only the sixth feature film by Swedish filmmaker Roy Andersson since his debut in 1970. I'd like to think he spends all that time considering each lengthy, meticulously-composed shot, and creating the weird dialogue, or absurd bits of business that are to occur within. I've only seen four of his films, including Songs from the Second Floor (2000), You, the Living (2007), and A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (2014) — which Andersson considers a trilogy — though About Endlessness fits in nicely with them. He's one of the great auteurs working in the world today, with a unique signature style, although he's often compared to Jacques Tati for his dry humor, and Stanley Kubrick for his stately camera setups.

Comprised of, I think, only 31 shots, this film features many characters, folks that one might not ordinarily notice while going about one's day. A priest that has lost his faith is one recurring character, suffering from a dream in which he's lugging a huge cross and being whipped, visiting a therapist, and then drinking too much sacramental wine. Other characters experience small moments that may feel profound, given the silence and space that surrounds them, like a man who meets another man on a stairway. He says hello, but the other man, whom he knew in childhood, doesn't say hello back. He explains that it may be because he once hurt the other man, and has not been forgiven.

Some scenes depict outright horror, and some are sad, but there are plenty that convey joy, such as a man who is delighted by the snow outside ("Isn't it fantastic?"), or three young women who stop to dance to the music playing in a local cafe. Occasionally a woman narrates, and every sentence begins with "I saw a man" or "I saw a woman." For example, in one scene, a restaurant server becomes distracted and overfills a wine glass, and then, flustered, begins trying to mop it up. The woman says, "I saw a man whose mind wandered." One notable segment, and the first, shows a couple embracing and literally floating over the city, slowly, like a cloud. It's a bit freaky, but it's also gorgeous.

The title comes from a scene showing two students reading from a textbook, learning that everything is energy, and that energy never dies; it just transfers from one place to another. Could it be that we are watching the same energy transferring from scene to scene? If that's the case, then why does the movie end on a motorist stopped by the side of the road with car trouble? Perhaps that's Andersson having the last laugh on us, perhaps it's a puzzle to be pondered, or perhaps it means nothing. In any case, this masterful film is equal parts funny, sad, horrifying, bittersweet, existential, mystical, and beautiful.

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