You, the Living

Bjorn Englund as the Tuba Player in Roy AnderssonÕs YOU, THE LIV

Swedish director Roy Anderson’s comedy “You The Living” is a dead-pan absurdist meditation on the illogical, mundane and frustrating minutia and angst of modern urban life.  Much to its credit it is not an easy film to describe or categorize.  Although some scenes carry the narrative forward, with certain characters appearing throughout, there is no real story or main character, but rather a unifying theme.

The characters are not happy and yet this movie is funny due to the simple observant accuracy of how these characters, and by extension us, spend their lives: A man cannot get on a crowded elevator.  Another man cannot get into a packed bus shelter on a stormy night.  Yet another man keeps alternating between two lines at a ticket window never getting any closer to the window. A late night tuba player annoys his downstairs neighbor.  A man stuck in traffic tells us about his dream of being sentenced to the electric chair for his unsuccessful completion of the “table cloth” trick at a formal dinner.

Anderson eschews editing within scenes, opting instead for compositional simplicity, a terrific eye for casting, set design and cinematography.  Some 50 scenes, comprising the film, are done in nicely choreographed, deep focus, master shots that allow us to observe the characters in their environments.  The choice is a very mature one that demonstrates directorial confidence and commitment.  A large part of Anderson’s skill as a director is his talent for casting.  I don’t know how else to put it but he finds people, actors and non-actors, who have the best faces and very demonstrable body language.  In addition Anderson employs an emotionally appropriate monochromatic cinematography of sets whose detailed sparseness scream lower-middle-class ennui.   The results show, and I hope film directors will take note, that it is not always necessary to cut to medium shots and close-ups to convey how a character feels or reacts.

Do I wish there was more of a story as opposed to only a connecting theme?  Yes.  However, the film is wonderfully eccentric and unique.  It has been beautifully photographed, cast and directed to bring out an emotionality that is simultaneously funny, sad and, at points, all too familiar. “You the Living” plays at Film Forum from July 27 – August 11.

“You, the Living,” director Roy Anderson,

Pallisades Tartan, 95 minutes, 2007


About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on July 24, 2009, in Film Forum, Off the Beaten Path. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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