You, the Living is an existential, fourth-wall-breaking Swedish comedy movie that jovially meditates on things like debt and the electric chair, before peaking with an equally contradictory ending that is dizzyingly effective. I have a hard time buying it as an experience that demanded a feature-length movie; the experience feels almost better suited to be a series of unconnected vignettes, or the kind of television show where an "episode" may only be around ten minutes, but it's definitely worth a look for anyone interested in a unique filmgoing experience.
Saying that You, the Living has no plot is true in the most literal sense of the word: while some of the scenes in the film connect, giving way to other scenes with recurring characters, the film has no narrative. It simply spotlights random people throughout Sweden during an unidentified period of time (probably decades ago, but it's hard to say). Some of these are filmed traditionally, but sometimes the characters speak directly to the viewer, even bursting into song on occasion. The film drifts back and forth out of "reality" and a handful of dream sequences as well.
Director Roy Andersson shot the entire film at Studio 24, a special arrangements of sets that gives the film a striking visual signature. Everything in Andersson's world looks like a caricature of reality, with just a distracting hint of perfection. Buildings may appear dirty, and the apartments and houses depicted are not necessarily new, but the landscape is still immaculate, and it feels cosmically empty, free of distractions. This not only allows Andersson to focus more directly on his cast of characters, but it also allows him to create several dazzling, unique sequences.
The best and most talked about of these moments will probably be the ones involving a man attempting to play a classic party trick at a family gathering, and a dream sequence in which a lonely girl envisions her marriage to a super-cool musician. It is best, of course, that these moments remain unspoiled, but they are hilarious, heartfelt, and tragic, all in their own ways (the scene following the party trick is particularly funny and patently absurd). There is also the depressed barber trying to deal with a snippy customer, the sad woman who believes her dog is as much of a liar as her boyfriend, and the jazz band that irritates everyone with their practice schedule. Each one seems true to life in a way that's refreshing and funny, but there's not much to it. To explain it further feels futile.
I can imagine several more chapters in You, The Living, each with the same ending, just focusing on different people. Maybe that's wishful thinking, but there's something very appealing about Andersson's stream-of-consciousness filmmaking. It's a real challenge to make a movie with the numerous dark tinges that You, The Living incorporates without coming off as sarcastic or cynical, but I believe that Andersson has a great love for the characters he showcases, which makes all the difference in the world. There are days when you might think that nobody understands you, but You, the Living suggests otherwise.
You, The Living comes in reasonably attractive but somewhat cluttered cover art, taking stills and images from the film and throwing on scads of text, in a mixture of competing fonts, at somewhat random sizes. Still, it got a big laugh out of me: the DVD case is transparent, and on the inside, there is an image from the film with a quote from the movie blown up to a ridiculous size. Like Import/Export, there is no booklet in the package. I hope Tartan hasn't decided to ditch them; I always appreciated that they were still giving us chapter inserts.
The Video and Audio
Tartan offers a strong but flawed anamorphic widescreen transfer (slightly pillarboxed at 1.66:1) that looks good from a bit of a distance, but is noticeably lacking in fine detail. The entire film is shot in wide and medium shots, without any close-ups, and it'd be nice to pick up on the little things in the frame while Andersson observes his subjects. That said, the colors appear accurate, and I didn't detect any artifacts or edge enhancement, but that fine detail -- which might have required a high-definition transfer to pick up on -- would have definitely been appreciated.
Tartan offers three language tracks, although I can't imagine why. Dolby Digital 5.1 is more than fine to reproduce the sound of people talking in stark environments, as well as the occasional jovial Dixie jazz tune or rock riff that pops in (although there is one scene in a thunderstorm that gives the bass a bit of a workout). Nonetheless, a DTS 5.1 and a Dolby 2.0 track are also provided, as are English subtitles.
Writer/director Roy Andersson contributes a feature-length audio commentary to the DVD, moderated by Swedish film writer Ronny Svensson, in Swedish with English subtitles. It's an intelligent chat about the themes and ideas behind the making of the film, and easily the most informative, interesting extra on the disc, although I picked up at least one reference (a name -- Dostoyevsky, if I remember correctly) that the subtitles did not pick up, and there is some slightly bizarre formatting; for some reason Tartan only had the character "É" available to them rather than "é", so "cliché" is subbed as "clichÉ", as are any other words and names with accents.
"Roy Andersson in New York, Sept. 2009" (20:03) is a combination of interviews and Q & A sessions with the director throughout the city, in which he talks about his history as a director and the films he's made. It's interesting, but the commentary is more focused. The featurette "A Time For Everything" (12:43) and the musical montage "A Sample of Sets" (8:03) are two of a kind, illustrating the truly brilliant production design at Studio 24, where Andersson shot the entire movie. I personally recommend watching the latter first, as the former contains direct lifts of some of the montage's most interesting surprises. Finally, a series of clips from previous Roy Andersson films (15:29), namely A Love Story, Giliap, Something Has Happened, Oh, the World is Fair, and Songs From the Second Floor, closes things out. It really makes the viewer want to seek out his other work, although the bit from Oh, the World is Fair is deeply, seriously harrowing and tragic. Not graphic, mind you, but still not for the faint of heart.
Trailers for Import/Export, Silent Light, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, 12:08 East of Bucharest, and The Hidden Blade play automatically when you put in the disc, and are also accessible from the special features menu. Two original theatrical trailers for You, The Living have also been included.
Thanks to the highly entertaining film in question and an excellent commentary (as well as the inclusion of clips from Andersson's other movies, which are quite intriguing), You, the Living is highly recommended, even if a Blu-Ray release with a little more fine detail would be greatly appreciated.
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