About Endlessness is not a title that particularly inspires intrigue. The words conjure an image of a desperately slow drama of intelligent importance, perhaps with sci-fi elements to provide inconsistent metaphors. The truth is that award-winning Swedish director Roy Andersson could hardly have delivered a film with quite so little in common with this description if he had been actively trying to.
In actuality, About Endlessness focuses on natural occurrences. The film concerns the everyday — both the optimistic and the sullen, exploring lives rewarded or doomed with repetition and length. Thought provoking sentiments burst through the dialogue, lacing together situations as bracingly relatable as they are hilarious or miserable. Veracity abounds through scenes driven by menial actions, each presenting great individuality. A priest has lost connection to his God, two young teens discuss the constant nature of energy and an embracing couple fly high above the ruins of a town, unable to keep themselves tethered.
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Andersson’s narrative, or lack thereof, presents a clever trick to sustain levels of fascination. This is not a straightforward story, but a collection of vignettes. Or rather, it isn’t, because some of the scenes linger barely long enough to be defined as such. They are merely windows into different lives, and with every new window, there comes renewed intrigue. Where will the focus of this new scene lie, and how will it further the subtle themes at play? Often, they arrive accompanied by the refrain of an omnipresent narrator, repeating variations on the phrase “I saw a man.” Andersson depicts fragments of humanity, stitched together with humour and relatability, and without a hint of loftiness or condescension.
Appropriately, there is a sense that About Endlessness could be quite different. Much like Caryl Churchill’s play Love and Information, there are infinite ways that these scenes might be rearranged to give alternative meanings or to explore new avenues of thought. Indeed, as in post-modern theatre, Andersson is working in a genre where the power is in the hands of the auteur. And he is just the filmmaker to pull all the elements together successfully. Though the camera never moves, the film’s dynamism is electric, and even the persistent shades of grey and brown look wistfully beautiful. Andersson even knows when enough might be enough, as About Endlessness makes its impact in just 76 minutes and leaves things there.
Andersson left a 25 year gap between the release of his third and fourth features, but since the turn of the century, he has released one film approximately every seven years. Perhaps it is this long gestation period that makes for the brilliant intelligence and well-roundedness of About Endlessness. It’s an excellent starting point to explore the filmmaker’s oeuvre — lighter and less reflective than some other entries. But the greatest thing about About Endlessness is that it’s down to earth, with every facet so brilliantly detailed and well controlled. Yes, there is much left unexplained, but the overriding sentiment is one of satisfaction gained from witnessing pockets of life at its most human. Few directors could pull off a film that is so delightfully special as About Endlessness.
Dan Sareen (@WanttheMoonCo) is a London based film critic and enthusiast. He regularly writes reviews for online publications including Flickering Myth and Culture Whisper. Dan is a lover of all genres, but finds particular enjoyment in crime movies.