ROY ANDERSSON’S EYE IS SO STEADY, his scenes so static, that audiences could be excused for mistaking his stare for utter detachment. In his films, urban existence initially seems inert and exhausted, a modus operandi in which people cram themselves into apartments, pubs, subways, and high-rise boardrooms, leading lives that are seemingly always under pressure. But as a viewer becomes accustomed to Andersson’s peculiar rhythms, what become salient are the small spontaneities that interrupt the routines—unpredictable, life-affirming asides that are both joyous and heartbreaking.
An acquired taste to be sure, Andersson’s Songs from the Second Floor (2000) cynically illuminated the tribulations of everyday life. The world was coming to an end, hope was running thin, and while there were some laughs to be found in one city’s attempt to maintain a sense of normalcy, it was, at most, dark humor. His newest work, You, the Living (2007), is freed from the confines of that bleak backdrop. A teary-eyed teacher arrives for work at her elementary school and is consoled by her class as she remembers that morning’s argument with her husband; the husband, meanwhile, confesses his agony to two surprised customers at his carpet store. We see one man annoy his neighbors by playing his tuba in his apartment, just as another musician across town bangs on his marching drum. Only later do we see these same two men in a parade, bringing music to the streets, their hidden passions on display for all to see.
You, the Living is a mosaic of soft vignettes set in the cool, hard city. By framing each moment with a motionless, unbroken shot, Andersson emphasizes the actions that deviate from the norm. A typical trip to the barber goes horribly wrong as the customer and proprietor argue. A routine family dinner devolves quickly—and hilariously—when one guest destroys all the good china. A business meeting erupts into chaos. This shattering of decorum can be both funny and—as a distraught woman tries in vain to help her mentally ailing mother remember her life—tragic. But Andersson seems convinced that it is these moments, both bright and bleak, that electrify our days. (For Andersson, that magic is felt most strongly in the first night spent at home by two newlyweds.) “This is what you get for your sins, you homeless bastards,” rumbles a bartender—the film’s disgusted, benevolent, and hopeful savior—to a smattering of late-night customers. “We’re taking last orders now. Tomorrow is another day.”