Fun fact: About Endlessness is my own private title for 2014’s Transformers: Age of Extinction, which features the longest running time in the annoyingly resilient giant-robot franchise. But Sweden’s Roy Andersson has grabbed the name for his newest existential comedy, which clocks in at a trim 76 minutes, or less than half a Transformer.
There’s not much of a plot here – just vignettes about the absurdity of life. Martin Serner is the nearest thing to a main character, playing a priest who has lost his faith. He has nightmares of being led to a crucifixion for this transgression, but the doctor he visits offers little help: Maybe just be happy that you’re alive, he suggests.
An unseen narrator sets each scene with: “I saw a man/woman who …” Some of the moments that follow are joyous, like the trio of teenaged girls who break into an impromptu dance outside a café, to the delight of the patrons. But this is followed by a man weeping over the body of someone he looks to have just murdered.
And a great many of the scenes are mild and unremarkable. A woman breaks her heel in a train station and has to remove her shoes. A waiter spills someone’s wine. A legless busker plays the mandolin in the subway.
If you’ve seen Andersson’s last feature, 2014’s A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, you’ll recognize the style of About Endlessness. Stockholm looks dusty and old, the kind of age that somehow seems designed, as though the city had rose into ruin rather than falling into it. Everything appears to have been sprayed with dust before filming. The actors, too, appear uniformly grey and pasty and tired.
But A Pigeon had both more of a plot (barely) and more humour (quite a lot). This one requires a little more work and a lot more patience on the part of its audience. I did enjoy a scene of two students discussing the notion that energy can be changed but never destroyed. Or the bar patron who quietly, repeatedly asks the room: “Isn’t it fantastic?” When someone finally inquires what he’s talking about, he replies: “Everything.” They agree that it is. Hard to argue with that.
About Endlessness is available April 30 through digital TIFF Bell Lightbox and in select Montreal cinemas. See filmswelike.com for more information.
3 stars out of 5