"A film about the vulnerability of human beings"
by Annika Pham
- Roy Andersson, one of Sweden’s greatest artists, spoke to Cineuropa in-between his numerous festival appearances, just after the Swedish opening of his film late September
Cineuropa: How would you describe your film: a hymn to life, to man’s humanity, a musical tragic-comedy?
Roy Andersson: You can say that it’s a tragic-comedy or 'drama' comedy as we say in Swedish. Laurel & Hardy for instance, they are very comical and sad at the same time. But life is a tragic-comedy. Above all, it’s a film about the vulnerability of human beings. We should not humiliate each other, and sometimes people are forced to humiliate themselves. I’m always very sad when I see this tendency nowadays. For example in reality TV shows such as The Farm, it’s very popular to humiliate people and it’s just very sad to see.
In You, the Living (Du Levande) [+see also:
interview: Pernilla Sandström
interview: Roy Andersson
film profile], people of all ages are represented, even children which is rather unusual in your work. Is that because putting an adult in an embarrassing or humiliating situation is even stronger when seen through the eyes of a child?
Yes, that’s true. I missed that in Songs from the Second Floor. I already thought I should have youngsters and children in it to have the whole spectrum of life, not only in terms of age group, gender, but also in terms of social group, ethnic group.
Music plays a key role in your movies. What is your inspiration?
I like New Orleans style jazz which I played on the trombone when I was young. I thought I had to use it in one of my films and now was the time to do it. At the beginning of the film, there is music composed by Benny Andersson (ex ABBA) which has the same roots as in Songs from the Second Floor. I also chose German academic music and a popular sentimental song from the 1930s was adapted for a solo on electric guitar and for a march.
You had some 50 single shot scenes with recurrent themes. How hard was it to choose the essential ones and to put them together in any sensible order?
It was very hard actually and only the last sequence was voluntarily put at the end, because I wanted people to look upwards. For the other scenes, there was no order. I wanted to make them but decided on the order at the editing table.
You use a very specific monochromatic colour scheme, mostly in the greys. Why not shoot in black and white, like the films from Italian neo-realism that you admire so much? ?
That’s true but if you use black and white, it’s a bit too easy. You immediately tend to think you make good art. I don’t like it at all. I started using those colours in the 1980s because after 15 years, I suddently found myself very tired of making films. I was not inspired by the realistic style I was using. Fortunately, I found a way out of it. I started to use abstraction which is also inspired by painting, especially the period between the two wars in the 1930s, in Germany. My favourite painter is the German expressionist Otto Dix. By using abstraction, I suddently felt free. I had the same experience with this movie because I had never dared before to create dreams. It gave me again a fantastic feeling of freedom. In a dream, everything is possible and permitted.
Do you think of the audience when you make a film?
That’s a delicate question, because you always want a large audience. But at the same time, you can’t speculate about what’s the average taste to reach the widest audience possible. I’m not fond of that. I hope that if I make a movie exactly the way I want it, even other people will like it.
Do you go to the cinemas?
I make movies myself and don’t look at other films because I don’t want to have them in my head. When I was younger, I didn’t mind being inspired by others, but not nowadays. I prefer to be inspired by painting, poetry and music. I do read about other film-makers’ work and watch teasers. I did see a Swedish movie recently which I thought was very good: Darling [+see also:
film profile] by Johan Kling.
We waited 25 years for Songs for the Second Floor and seven years for You, the Living. How long will we have to wait for your next project?
It will go quicker. I have so many festivals to attend and interviews to make. I will need at least a month to rest.