Profile: Roy Andersson

The cinema of the country of Sweden has become surprisingly and pleasantly prevalent in recent years. There are numerous directors responsible for this sudden boom, but none resonates with such ferocity and talent in my head as Roy Andersson, whose style of cinema calls for understated and minimalist actors, dialogue and plot scenario, but shockingly expensive production value.

Born in 1943, Andersson began his professional film career in 1969 after graduating from the Swedish film institute. En kärlekshistoria, known in English as A Swedish Love Story, was an overwhelmingly popular production in Sweden and across the world. After making one more film, Giliap, in 1975, Andersson was forced to stop making movies and work on a series of commercials for various companies. The commercials proved to be unwittingly hilarious, and fellow Swede Ingmar Bergman, though not a fan of Andersson’s films, proclaimed them to be “the best commercials in the world.” You can view them on YouTube here.

The commercials marked a distinct change in Andersson’s style. From now on, he would shoot the scenes in his films/commercials in one unbroken take, and in an atmosphere of dreary sadness, from which humour and dry comedy would often emerge. Because of his popularity, in the late 80s, Andersson was commissioned to make an educational short film about AIDS to be shown in schools. This project became the 24-minute controversial short film Something Happened. When the health board saw the film, they rejected it immediately due to its bleak cynicism and controversial opinions, though now it is regarded by many (including myself) as brilliant.

His next film, in 1991, was another short, this time only 15 minutes long. World of Glory also challenged audience expectations by opening with a horrifying shot of naked people being piled into a truck and gassed. The new Andersson was dead serious. World of Glory was named one of the ten best short films of all time by the Clemont-Ferrand short film festival.

In 1996, production began on the expensive Songs from the Second Floor, Andersson’s first full-length feature since Giliap in 1975. Songs from the Second Floor is a film structured of several disconnected vignettes focusing on the empty existences of various people, and like most of Andersson’s modern work, juxtaposes scenes of horrific seriousness with ones of brutally hilarious comedy. Sometimes the horrifically serious and the brutally funny are the same thing. The film was so expensive because Andersson built complex sets for every single scene, which cost him a lot of money. It was worth it, because the film turned out to be a success in Sweden and at its premiere in Cannes. In 2007, Andersson followed this film up with You, The Living, a feature very similar in style and its absence of plot, and as equally brilliant as its predecessor.

Andersson is currently working on his next film, which is to be the final instalment of a trilogy that began with Songs from the Second Floor and You, The Living. Its current working title is A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, and Andersson claims it will be a departure in style from his previous work, and inspired by the work of Dostoyevsky.

So what do you think of Roy Andersson’s films? Leave a comment below.

ALSO: You can watch Something Happened online here, and World of Glory online here.

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Posted on April 13, 2012, in Filmmakers, Movies, Profile and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. IMDB reckons the new film won’t be out until 2014. I presume he’s not too worried about not being a prolific filmmaker.

  2. Christian Hallbeck

    Which one is your favourite scene from his last two films?

    • A very tough question. I’ll list a few:

      *the subway scene where everyone sings operatic music in SONGS FROM THE SECOND FLOOR
      *the scene where the little girl is sacrificed in SONGS
      *the scene where the flagellants walk past screaming in SONGS
      *the marriage in a truck fantasy sequence in YOU, THE LIVING
      *the sex scene where the man talks about his financial problems in YOU, THE LIVING

  3. Christian Hallbeck

    The marriage scene s beautiful, I agree! If i’m not mistaken Roy Andersson himself considers this scene to be his best.

    They’re all great scenes! My question was quite stupid. I was just qurious.

    Like you I hold SONGS FROM THE SECOND FLOOR a bit higher than YOU, THE LIVING.

  4. Christian Hallbeck

    I just saw the funeral scene, where the woman sings a religious song by the coffin, and the drummer in the band forgets himself in the second verse, and starts to excel on the drums… I laughed till I cried! I missed that bit the first time…

    In Roy Andersson’s films you often cry and laugh at the same time. That’s the strength in them!

  5. One of my absolute favorites. I haven’t seen Giliap yet, and I was slightly underwhelmed by Swedish Love Story and his early shorts. But Something Happened, World of Glory, Songs from the Second Floor and You, the Living are all brilliant. Love that deadpan Scandinavian humor and those memorable compositions. Can’t wait for the new one.

    • I haven’t seen any of his early 60s or 70s films, but I bloody love Something Happened, World of Glory, Songs and You the Living. His humour is infectious and hilarious. The new film is sure to be a treat.

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