The dreams and nightmares of today’s society come to tragicomic life in Roy Andersson’s Du levande (You, the Living), which was part of the Un certain regard section at the Cannes Film Festival in 2007. The dark yet at turns hilarious take on the state of man in the 21st century is a very successful look at the desperate mess of modern life. Like his previous Cannes winner Sånger från andra våningen (Songs from the Second Floor, from 2000), its particular brand of dark Nordic comedy took several years to develop and could again delight audiences across the continent.
The characters in Andersson’s films are not so much protagonists as they are recognisable faces in his typical tableaux vivants, always filmed with a stationary camera and an unerring eye for detail. In one of the film’s first vignettes, Mia, a sturdy woman sitting on a park bench, laments that no one understands her, not even her lover or her dog. To underline the point, she breaks out in song, which raises the eyebrows of a passer-by peeping through the trees.
Loneliness and cruelty come closely linked in Andersson’s world view, and Mia is later seen at her mother’s, who is preparing dinner. After stating that she is happy to be there, she calls her mother a sadist for serving non-alcoholic beer with such a nice dinner. “With all the misery in the world, how can we not get drunk?” she laments.
A man stuck in traffic recounts the viewers a terrible nightmare he had in which he attended a family dinner of a family that was not his. The party ended with the man being strapped to an electrical chair as the family — still not his — looks on, nibbling on popcorn in anticipation of the execution. Thankfully, he is only stuck in traffic in real life.
Filmed in washed-out pastels and slightly hazy interiors, the film creates its own parallel and slightly askew worldview much like Andersson’s previous film (and the films from Aki Kaurismäki from neighbouring Finland). The key to their success is that their worlds are so recognisable because they reduce the real world to its bare essentials without compromising their characters. Their humour often comes from simple observation of what people around us do every day. The situations are not really absurd; they are simply the insignificant moments from real life presented as the main act, which reveals the real personalities and preoccupations of the people going through them with a clarity that many dramas strive for but rarely attain.
Subtitles:Soft (srt) subtitles in English, Norwegian, Swedish and Finnish