ABOUT ENDLESSNESS

There’s plenty of cultural baggage in Roy Andersson’s About Endlessness, the latest from the Swedish filmmaker, not to mention stasis. Andersson is the king of static shot tableau filmmaking, and About Endlessness comprises 32 immobile shots, most of them non sequiturs of varying length, each one narrated by a nameless woman who opens her statements with “I saw.” Sometimes the narration arrives at the beginning of the scene, contextualizing it for us; other times, the narration comes in the middle or end as punctuation or subversion.

And there’s a lot of subversion to About Endlessness. In one scene, a young father is trying to get his infant to smile for a photo. He lifts the baby in the air with a slight toss and the kid giggles. It’s a sweet moment, but Andersson and cinematographer Gergely Pálos frame the shot so that your eye can’t help but notice all the hard, concrete angles surrounding the father and child. They’re just steps leading to a church, but they look so menacing you hold your breath and wait for something to go wrong. Nothing does, though, and when something truly terrible does happen—that’s another scene entirely—Andersson cuts away before we can gather any real context or deduce what transpired. It’s as if he cannot bear to watch.

These shots are perfectly composed and framed, like paintings hanging on a wall, but with movement. Dioramas might be a better descriptor. And like strolling through a museum, you spend more time looking at the banal ones trying to find something that may or may not be there, and less with the direct ones. The mind can absorb only so much misery. Now streaming on Hulu.

A version of the above review first appeared in Boulder Weekly Vol. 28, No. 37, “Deadpan double feature.”