I should enlarge on that maybe. If you compare SFTSF which was his first full length film I believe, to his latest effort which I watched yesterday, then they both have the same structure (as far as I remember), each scene involves a camera which is positioned motionless, or, if memory serves, occasionally it will move a tiny bit, perhaps slide along to the slide by a couple of feet, but compared to what we are used to in the vast majority of modern films then to me it is completely reasonable to describe the camera as fixed. It is basically exactly the same technique as Paradjanov uses in, say, Suram Fortress or whatever.
eg if you watch this from about 15 seconds in
Compared with this up to 2.58 or so
Ilyenko also used this technique for much of this film if I remember correctly. He was Paradjaov's cinematographer.
Both directors spend ages literally building a particular scene before the shot - if it's Paradjanov it will normally be a bit of the Armenian steppe or a courtyard in a castle and it will be sumptuously decorated with rugs and beautiful people in fine furs, quite possibly there will be a table with an ornate mirror and golden goblets strewn around, maybe some food which is half-eaten but beautiful nevertheless, could be even a camel or a couple of peacocks in the background as a living ornament.
If it is Andersson it's the same idea but the scene will probably be in a hospital or maybe some people will be staring sadly at a grave or a hangman's noose. All of the colours will be washed out, he uses a filter on his camera which is called "really depressing". The people he chooses to put in his vignettes - well, can you guess? - yes, that's right, they are fat and ugly, or maybe that's not even the right word, it's more that they are beaten down by life, every bit of their saggy craggy faces will be pulled down by sadness, the deep lines and heavy jowls tell a tale of a life both startlingly mundane yet at the same time abnormally depressing. Occasionally there will be people having sex, they will look as sad as everyone else, perhaps it will be a wizened old stick man underneath a fat and wobbly young woman who seems likely to kill him with every movement despite her complete lack of enthusiasm. OK, it's only fair to say that there is a lot of humour in his films - it's sly, sarcastic, cruel and sardonic but it's definitely there. I don't really know what to say about it, but I feel I need to mention it. Certainly in You, The Living there was one particular scene where I really truly laughed out loud and I think everyone else in the cinema did too. How often do you really properly laugh at a film?
I mentioned on facebook that I had seen About Endlessness and it turned out that one of my friends* had worked on it, this is what he said
I worked on About Endlessness for the few days that they shot in Oslo. The set designer was really cool, she showed me a lot of crazy sets they'd been building. She said that they would spend a whole month building a set in this basement studio, then shoot the scene for an entire day, then the next day they would scrap the set and start building the next set for another month and so on.
Also two of my friends who were in my new film played extras in it.
I didn't ask him if they were abnormally ugly but I did ask what he thought of the finished article and he said he hadn't watched it.
So OK, we have a technique that is used to a greater or lesser extent by Paradjanov in pretty much all of his films and by Andersson in all of his as far as I know. I don't think that that is a problem in itself, there are millions of films that are shot in the same style, just cos this is an idiosyncratic style we notice the similarity more, nobody said "Oh not another action film shot in the exact same way" when Mission Impossible 17 came out even though it uses the same techniques as a million films, so I don't think it's right to slate About Endlessness for using the same technique as ten other films. However, Paradjanov's films are different from each other within this style - one is about a castle that keeps being knocked down, another about a poet and so on. But Andersson's films are basically the same as far as I can tell - every one seems to be about depressed people, often losing their faith, certainly there is always some Christian imagery, normally reduced to mundanity, Nazis often pop up. The films are not linear as such but characters do recur from scene to scene, also sometimes you hear sounds from another scene in the background - in one you see some people at the base of a cliff and someone falls to their death crashing down into the corner of the scene, later you see presumably the same person approaching the cliff from the top.
So it's not just the same style, it's the same look within that, it's the same kind of people doing the same things in the same colours. The only difference or evolution from the first to the last is that the scenes are less weird, maybe there is a bit more linearity, I guess he would describe them as tauter but to me they are less expansive. So I watched the film yesterday, in a weird kind of way it was comforting, I found myself lost in it quite easily. I did enjoy it. But at the end I just felt like I'd watched his first film again with the best bits cut out. And the more I think about the more disappointed I feel... it seems like an unusual and promising talent "maturing" by slowing pruning himself back towards normality.
I'm sure Andersson sees himself growing wiser, more mature, more focused and less in need in the flashy tricks of magic and surrealism. But I miss all that stuff. I'd love to know if anyone else has seen Songs From The Second Floor and also About Endlessness (any two of his films really but I think if you see his first and last that should give you a clue to his journey) and what they think.
*It was my friend Iosu (pronounced Josh) who makes films in his own right @suspended
has also met him in fact