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by Omar Kholeif

30 Jul 2009

Often heralded as a successor to Ingmar Bergman due to his dark wit and humor, Swedish director, Roy Andersson has developed a niche for himself by creating poignant fables that are underscored by outlandish, laugh-out-loud comedy. In true auteur fashion, his pictures are marked by a distinctive tableau of meticulously arranged set design and cinematography, which help echo his bold (and absurd) quirkiness.

Here, in You, The Living, Andersson takes his notions of the ridiculous beyond the traditional bounds of reality – presenting us with hallucinations from vacant souls, who struggle to find ‘meaning’ in the despairing silence of the everyday. To map out a précis here however would be futile. For the filmmaker does not construct a traditional three-act narrative form, but rather weaves us into his story through emotional impulses. As such, all of the characters are ‘connected’, but unlike hegemonic movies, the players here are drawn together by their pessimistic outlook on life. The problem is of course remedied by the tragicomic ending, which sees a fleet of bomber airplanes seemingly ready to end these characters’ irreversible misery.

For those of you who feel that I may have just given away a vital plot point, rest assured. The experience of viewing Andersson’s film has less to do with this structural point, and more to do with its distinctive lighting, and its theatrical artifice – which reminds us of the sumptuousness of a Douglas Sirk masterpiece like Written On The Wind (1956) or All That Heaven Allows (1955). Unlike Sirk however, this filmmaker doesn’t mask his morbid outlook in subtext. Instead, he envelops his characters, his set (often shrouded in an eerie green light), and his camera, which on more than one occasion resides in utter stillness, almost as if waiting for the grim reaper to come and swoop these characters off to their graves.

These aesthetic choices imbue the piece with a dreamlike quality—one that is as much a nightmare, as it is a lurid fantasy. These painterly images seep into the viewer’s unconscious, hitting such a deep-set chord that by the end of the movie, I felt that I had been ‘uplifted’ from my own facade, and that I was slowly returning to it after a restless, and consuming sleep.

Besides its gloomy exterior, You, The Living is laced with some very funny instances. Old-fashioned physical gags are interspersed with inventive comic interludes. The most inspired of these examples involves a van driver, who while attempting a traditional cloth pulling technique finds himself unraveling a posh dinner party, ruining a series of antique china pieces. The driver is subsequently put on trial; where a bunch of beer-guzzling judges decide that he deserves to be electrocuted to death for his catastrophic sins. In an ingenious turn of events, Andersson executes these moments in a series of slow motion deadpan scenes, which left me hurling with uncontrollable laughter.

Another hilarious slice of comedy finds a disgruntled hairdresser reshaping an influential businessman’s head into a pseudo-Mohawk before an important meeting. When confronted by the fuming victim, the barber responds quietly: “take it easy”, explaining that a domestic tiff with his wife left him agitated, and unable to cut his hair in the manner requested. 

But despite his penchant for comedy, Andersson’s film boils with a potent political undertone, which raises existential queries. As we begin to question whether his characters are indeed ‘living’ or not, we grow to inquire about our own place in this seemingly wretched world, where we all ‘live’, merely to ‘earn’ our living, leaving behind our fantastic hopes for Technicolor in our disappearing dreams. As such, You, The Living harkens to the same hyperrealism of TV programs like Ally Mcbeal, except in a more radical and unapologetic manner. A truly visionary experience, You, The Living suggests that Roy Andersson may very well be on the brink of genius.

by PopMatters Staff

30 Jul 2009

Milky Ways
Releasing: 15 September (US)

01 Back to Wilderness
02 Ad Me
03 Fly Like an Apple
04 Spiders
05 Glossy Papers
06 Medusa
07 Love & Romance & a Special Person
08 King Kong Is Dead
09 Travel in Vain
10 Little Girl

“Love & Romance & a Special Person” [MP3]

by PopMatters Staff

30 Jul 2009

Matt Fiander raved about Passion Pit’s latest album Manners: “Score one for internet hype. Steeped in the tension of economic hardship and transition, but loaded with an undeniable resilience and infectious joy, Manners is a brilliantly timely and lasting electro-pop record.” The group played Jimmy Fallon’s show this week to pump up the release.

by Sarah Zupko

30 Jul 2009

William Shatner does dramatic readings of Sarah Palin’s Twitter posts… modern poetic classics? Not.

by Omar Kholeif

30 Jul 2009

We live in an epoch of collective pessimism. Today’s youth, raised on falsely idealistic capitalist dreams have grown into a mass of self-possessed, hypochondriacs—afraid that the cancer of the world will spell their demise. OK, perhaps this is a slight exaggeration, but there still exists a certain grain of truth to this belief. As an active member of this very generation, I often find that there is a unanimous despondency amongst those around me. Small, personal traumas are elevated to magnanimous status, disavowing the historical context surrounding other members of our cohort, and our elders. The reasoning behind this is simple. We were promised the world, only to find that our parents had destroyed it with their greed. Of course, it is this very same ‘greed’ that has driven us into a state of chaos, and has made us unwilling to accept the more modest options available to us.

Whilst contemplating the melodrama surrounding young adult culture, I was compelled to return to one of my favorite pieces of autobiography, Susana Kaysen’s Girl, Interrupted. As many will already know, Kaysen’s seminal memoir released in 1993 became a best seller in the late 1990s after it was adapted into a Columbia motion picture starring Winona Ryder, and the now infamous Oscar-winner, Angelina Jolie.

The tale begins with an 18-year old Kaysen, just out of high school, being diagnosed with ‘Borderline Personality Disorder’. This judgment led Kaysen to an 18-month stint at the McLean mental hospital, which was notorious for housing many well-known figures and celebrities, including Sylvia Plath. Before, I divulge any deeper into the story or its subtext, it is worth considering the book’s tension between conformity and mental illness. Here, Kaysen is relegated to the outskirts of society, not so much because she was ‘mentally ill’, but rather, because she was unwilling to engage with the norms of capitalist society, desiring instead to lead the life of a writer. As expected, her parents, teachers and her analyst find this notion preposterous, concluding that she must be the subject of some significant malfunction.

With this consideration in tow, it is easy to see why youth culture can often be found crumbling at its seams. Capitalist society precludes conformity, and anyone who wishes to exist out with these bounds is in turn, considered delirious. He/She is subsequently left with very few options, but to manifest this anarchy through the vice of depression. The irony of course is that consumer society also acts as a double-edged sword. Those in society, who work their way up through the traditional hierarchy (graduating from law, business school and the like), may very soon find themselves wading through the erogenous ‘depression’ zone, when they realize that they can no longer keep up with their material desires.

Indeed, consumer society is driven by continuous ‘want’, but once the desire to ‘want’ subsists; the candidate may find that there is little else to ‘live for’. Equally dangerous is the despairing helplessness that can take place after a capitalist culture’s economic breakdown. An individual who exists in a consistently elevated middle-class will certainly find him or herself, incapable of functioning if the economy were to reduce them to a lower echelon in the hierarchy. It is no surprise then that the business centers of London and Tokyo are rife with as much suicide and ‘mental illness’, as those less affluent expanses of mainstream civilization.

This view of conventional culture is echoed throughout Girl, Interrupted. Kaysen uses sparse, documentary-like prose to study the characters in the enclosed institution around her, unmasking their motives through unabashed analysis. Let us consider the author’s representation of schizophrenic mental patient, Polly for instance. Polly has been sectioned because she had attempted to burn herself alive. But instead of portraying the young Polly as a helpless hermit, Kaysen chooses to emphasize her courage. She notes how Polly simply wanted to burn her troubled past away – and in a sense she emboldens her spirit. As a child of the post-grunge period, it is natural for me to draw parallels between this characterization and the youth who sought to reclaim self-harm as a viable means of expression. In high school, teenage girls and boys claimed it as ‘right’, and perhaps also had the misfortune of turning this very act into a form of ‘designer torture’.

This notion persists again with the author’s depictions of both Georgina and Lisa in the story. Lisa’s categorization especially, is marked by an exhilarating and untamed charm that could be compared to the likes of Jack Nicholson and his band of tormented Hollywood-era aficionados. This isn’t to say that her examination is entirely glamorous. The prose that expounds upon Daisy’s character, a sociopathic young girl addicted to laxatives is far more critical, for example. Instead of associating her with the wafer-thin poster children of the era, Kaysen delineates her life with a sense of unspectacular anguish.

Certainly, some will argue that the author had little intention in ‘commenting’ on or drawing such grand comparative analysis; after all, all of these portraits are based on real, living people. However, the word ‘based’ is the key to our understanding here. Like any writer in any medium, the work of the author will always to some extent be an ‘imagined’ reality. As such, I believe that each of these characters exists out with the realm of real life, and in its place serves as an allegory to greater social tensions at play in the conformist capitalist milieu.

In the end though, the most honest examination occurs when the author holds the mirror up to herself. Whilst recounting her suicide attempt, and her comparatively sheepish desire to damage her physical exterior, Kaysen is able to unravel a debate that challenges the reader to think about the tension between freedom (mental and physical), and the captivity that we are all subjected to by consenting to civil society.

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