You, the Living: a grand tragicomedy
by Fabien Lemercier
"Be pleased then, you the living, in your delightfully warmed bed, before Lethe’s ice-cold wave will lick your escaping foot.” This quote from Goethe, alluded to in You, the Living [+see also:
film profile], the new film by the highly original Swedish director Roy Andersson, aptly sums up the director’s objectives: to add a joie de vivre expressed by burlesque humour to the quite desperate state of human beings and the contemporary world.
Well received at its screening today in the Un Certain Regard sidebar of the Cannes Film Festival, the feature – the fourth in the 37-year career of the director-producer (winner of the Jury Prize at Cannes 2000) – failed, however, to live up to the expectations of its admirers.
While Andersson excels in his characteristic style, consisting of artifice (shooting in a studio), well-mastered simplicity (scenes with wide angle shots from a single point of view and long shots, brilliant theatrical composition), suggestive atmospheres (softened lighting and monochrome tones, especially green) and a narrative aspect composed of about 50 scenes from the daily life of inhabitants of a big city, the film does not concentrate sufficiently on any of its characters for the audience to truly identify with them.
This distance does not mean You, the Living is not an outstanding film. Exceptionally directed, it succeeds in the treatment of a range of serious and universal issues dealt with in the guise of offbeat and destructive humour.
Couples that argue or ignore each other, rejected or illusionary lovers, a tired psychiatrist, a racist executive, a nightmarish worker, a carpet seller, a revengeful hairdresser, corrupt businessmen, and especially News Orleans jazz musicians: You, the Living shows everyday life through its characters who meet in bars, shops and at concerts. The set, constructed in Andersson’s own studios, offers compelling visual variations.
Strewn with dreamlike scenes, the film pours out its philosophy of incommunicability with many hilarious jokes dealing with the most serious social and personal themes: alcoholism, the death penalty, religion, old age, materialism and justice. A sombre vision of the world about which it is better to laugh at, as the director masterfully shows.
A European co-production between Sweden (Roy Andersson Filmproduktion), Denmark (Posthust Teatret/Spillefilmkompanet 4 1/2), Germany (Thermidor Filmproduktion) and France (Société Parisienne de Production), You, the Living carried a €4.8m budget.
(Translated from French)