You, the Living

Starring: Jessika Lundberg, Elisabeth Helander, Björn Englund Directed by: Roy Andersson

Viewing a movie used to be based on seeing a trailer for the film and then, maybe, word of mouth.  A good written review.  Siskel and Ebert.  With the advent of the VCR one might see a film based on the synopsis written on the box.  Whatever the case you could probably give a reason as to why you saw a film.  Because the trailer looked good, or because the back of the box sounded interesting or, hell, maybe even just because Michael J. Fox was in it.

Eventually there came the internet, and the wealth of information it has left almost literally at our fingertips.  Now I see so many reviews and watch so many trailers and read so much information about film, some of which may or may not even be true, I sometimes forget why I saw a movie.

And so it is that I have no idea why I watched the Swedish Existentialist romanti-dramedy, “You, the Living.”  It’s probably because Netflix recommended it based on my “taste preferences.”  Or maybe I simply chose it based on the synopsis.  Maybe because it sounded difficult and mysterious.  Who knows.  Maybe those Bing search overload commercials are really on to something.

“You, the Living,” is like one of those films where there are seven or eight different vignettes and then, in the end, they are carefully woven together to show how everybody’s lives are amazingly, inexplicably intertwined to create the beautiful existence we call life.

Except, in “You, the Living,” there are somewhere in the range of 50 vignettes presented in a film lasting under 90 minutes.  Some of them are intertwined, and some of them aren’t.  Some of them are funny, some are sad and some….well, some simply exist.  So I guess, actually, it is nothing like those films.

There were times, during the viewing of “You, the Living,” when I found myself thoroughly enjoying a particular vignette.  Maybe because it was funny (my favorite scene is one in which a man recounts a dream where he tries to pull the tablecloth out from underneath a family meal to no avail.  Subsequently he is sentenced to death by electrocution) or insightful to the human condition.  Unfortunately that enjoyment crashed back down as I was forced to watch an entire bit revolving around a man on the telephone.  In its oversimplified style, you are greeted with a scene in which the camera is static and you only hear one side of the conversation.  The voice on the other end of the phone is inaudible.

So it goes and, as you would expect when you are trying to cram fifty-ish vignettes in to a 90 minute running time, there is plenty of hit and miss.

The one amazing thing about the film is director Roy Anderrson’s style choice.  Nearly every single vignette is shot with no camera movement, but the camera is placed so perfectly you hardly notice.  The depth given in a static shot of a room is astounding.  In almost every shot there is something going on in the background -- outside a door, or a window for example.  Inside the room may just be a reflection of everyday life.  In this way he creates something interesting to look at without having to compromise the style he has chosen for the rest of the film, and in that regard it works brilliantly.

That, I think, speaks a lot to the idea of the film.  Every minute of every second of our lives is not filled with snappy dialogue or explosions or dramatic decision making.  Unfortunately, exploring the banal minutiae of everyday life with no clarification, background or character development doesn’t necessarily make for very enthralling cinema.

Written by Ryan Venson