Songs from the Second Floor
Dir: Roy Andersson
Roy Andersson's Songs from the Second Floor took a few people by surprise in 2000 and not necessarily in a good way but over time, and thanks to a couple of sequels that build on the idea, it is now considered one of the first great films of the new millennium. It is the ultimate dark comedy, riotously funny one second, devastatingly dark the next. The film begins with a segment of Cesar Vallejo's famous poem 'Beloved Be the One Who Sits Down'. The poem is about the downtrodden, as is the film, but the line 'Beloved Be the One Who Sits Down' is the one line in the poem that sticks out as somewhat strange but also rather likable. It's a strange thing to say but it suits the film's mood perfectly. The film is constructed of a series of unconnected vignettes that together interrogate aspects of normal modern life. Various quotes from Cesar Vallejo's work act as a recurring motif and the vignettes become bigger, glossier and more surreal as the film progresses. Andersson uses heavy symbolism throughout the film, some vignettes being easier to decipher than others, with a few being clearly personal to the director but I would argue that none of them are out of reach for the viewer, indeed some will mean different things to different people, although I don't believe they're meant to be open to interpretation as such. It really is as easy or as complex a film as the viewer makes it. Sometimes it is hard to work out if everything is happening at once, whether everyone is actually dead and this is some sort of purgatory or if what is happening is in the imagination of some of the key characters, all could be true but in way it doesn't really matter. Andersson asks that you think but he doesn't expect his audience to be geniuses. This is a celebration of people and a challenge against aspects of modern life that we find normal but are actually rather ridiculous, if you think about it for long enough. While the little things are mocked and made fun of initially, Andersson then asks, quite seriously, where it will all lead to. It's a tickle with a feather and then a slap in the face but always with a big smile. Each tableaux vivant is beautifully framed, always with subtle movement and perfectly lit. The film starts grey and colour is added slowly towards the film's conclusion. Every single image is meticulously designed and every single second is used productively. Every aspect of human life is explored, sometimes subtly and sometimes in rather an abrupt manner, until it is revealed that 'It's not easy being human'. It is visual poetry and fine art. Although Andersson covers pretty much every aspect of human life he still had more to say, explore and look at from a different angle and so the 'Living Trilogy' was born, with the brilliant You, the Living coming seven years later and A Pigeon Sat on aBranch Reflecting on Existence coming seven years after that.