The amazing artistry of 77-year-old Swedish director Roy Andersson is illuminated in this tribute, a documentary that follows the work on his latest film, About Endlessness, which was released last year to much acclaim. Andersson himself is renowned for his brilliant tragicomic visual gags and dreamlike visions, with hints of Beckett, Fellini and Monty Python. (He acknowledges here, too, the influence of Breughel and Goya.)
Andersson emerges here as a slightly mysterious figure, smiling beatifically like the much-loved elder statesman that he is, speaking in general terms about his art addressing the frailty and vulnerability of human nature, but giving little away about himself. The documentary creates what looks like a rather artificial narrative crisis about his heavy drinking: we glimpse him furtively swigging from a bottle; his behaviour becomes erratic, he checks into rehab and quickly checks out (to everyone’s exasperation), yet there seems to be no long-term damage to his latest triumph and the subject is not seriously mentioned again.
The film does not really discuss his own personal or married life, and it doesn’t talk about his lengthy interlude in TV commercials that lasted for 25 years, from the release of his critically dismissed feature Giliap in 1975 to the sensational Songs From the Second Floor in 2000, which formed the bedrock of his current reputation.
What the film does show is the overwhelming importance of his personal studio, which he created in 1981 from the shell of a huge townhouse building he bought in Stockholm. It really is a studio in the artistic as well as movie sense, and vital for the Andersson style. Almost all his unmistakable tableau scenes are created in that building with stunningly clever model and greenscreen work: those eerie, hallucinatory perspectives leading the eye from the figures in the foreground to the pinsharp details in the far distance. The staggering “train” scene in You, the Living (2007) itself deserves an award, and I would have liked to have heard even more about how the magic was fabricated there. But maybe Andersson (understandably) doesn’t want to reveal too many trade secrets. A valuable introduction to the movies and to the man.
Being a Human Person is in cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema from 16 October.