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Songs from the Second Floor (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on June 29, 2013

After the critical and commercial failure of Roy Andersson’s Giliap (the only film by him I have not yet seen), the director threw himself into advertising for two decades, creating TV spots.  He developed a distinctive style, single take shots with no camera movement, supported by very dry humor.  He carried this style over into his shorts Something Happened and World of Glory, but this film is where it comes into full flower.

Andersson builds a very, very bleak world here.  A world where despair, ennui and desperation rule.  Suffering is treated with indifference.  The horizon seems to stretch to infinity, an endless row of bland, impersonal architecture.  People are stuck in their cars for an eternal traffic jam, businessmen and women flagellate themselves in the middle of the street, economic success depends on factors as pointless as crystal balls and built upon the ritual sacrifice of the nation’s youth.  For all the striving to reach the middle/upper-middle class — the “second floor” — the reward is merely a cartload of burdensome material possessions, empty symbols of meaningless status.  Religion is thoroughly commoditized.  Dingy light casts no shadows in this land of discomforting grays and blues, the lack of camera movement suggests lifelessness, as does the deathly pallor that everyone shares.  Even the dead themselves are dissatisfied and seeking solace.  Beauty and poetry is drained from this world, those who treasure it are driven (or declared) insane.

But while Andersson is relentlessly scathing in his indictment of society’s ills, he feels great kindness for its suffering citizens.  He opens the film with a line from César Vallejo’s “Stumble Between Two Stars”: “Beloved be the one who sits down.”  Vallejo’s poem is a reworking of the Beatitudes, and lines from the verse are repeated throughout the film.  It is this sympathy for humanity that cuts through the harsh critique and bleak tones.  And the humor helps in this regard.  There are marvelously funny moments here… outbursts heightened by the sorrowful calm they emerge from, sight gags revealing themselves in the background.

And like many of the best visual stylists, Andersson has a major talent for transforming the ugly and mundane into something profoundly beautiful.  The meticulous compositions, uniformity of set design, and drained color palette make for a series of astonishing images.  Combining this stark and evocative cinematography with Benny Andersson’s wonderful score creates an aesthetic experience wholly unique.  A film that weeps for humanity but also laughs at it with surrealist surprises around every corner.  Unshakeable and unforgettable.  Rating: Masterpiece (96)


2 Responses to “Songs from the Second Floor (rewatch)”

  1. […] 194. Songs from the Second Floor (2000, Roy Andersson) […]

  2. […] 77. Songs from the Second Floor (2000, Roy Andersson) […]

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