One of my favorite distributors in recent years has been Tartan Films, which distributed all kinds of Asian horror films as well as interesting, gutsy things like Oldboy, Lady Vengeance, 12:08 East of Bucharest, Red Road, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, The Cave of the Yellow Dog and Battle in Heaven. The company went through some tough times last year, but they have re-emerged, more or less, newly re-christened as Palisades Tartan. And one of their first decisions on active duty was to scoop up the distribution rights for Roy Andersson's You, the Living in the United States.
This film has been floating around for a while, playing at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival and opening in its native Sweden in the fall of 2007. I saw it in the spring of 2008 at the San Francisco International Film Festival. I suspect that critic David Thomson saw it there as well, and he saw fit to include it in his recent book "Have You Seen...?" a collection of short essays on 1000 of the most notable films ever made. It opened a few weeks ago in New York and will be slowly expanding to other cities throughout the fall. I wanted to include it on my list of the ten best films of 2008, but I felt that one screening at one film festival -- and no regular distribution -- disqualified it from consideration. Now I'm considering it a strong contender for 2009's list.
It hardly matters that the film is two years old; it's one of those films that belongs to its own time and place, like Jacques Tati's comedies. Andersson is probably most frequently compared to Tati, and in my review I compared him to Buster Keaton, David Lynch, Jerry Lewis and Terry Gilliam. But he's also singularly, defiantly different. His films are comedies, technically, though they're bathed in a chilly, blue-gray light and set in gray, concrete city blocks with the dreary denizens continually standing in lines. It's a studio-bound look, which could have been deceptively expensive, or very cheap. Production reportedly took three years. Andersson rarely cuts within a scene, and even more rarely moves the camera. Like his previous film, Songs from the Second Floor (2000), this one is an ensemble piece, with only the most tenuous of cross points.
But You, the Living is funny. It's funny because of the long stretches of time it takes for things to happen. It's funny because of the very odd dream sequences, such as the one in which a cute groupie (Jessika Lundberg) dreams of marrying her rock star crush and sailing away in a house, surrounded by cheering fans. And it's funny because of the cheerfully ill-fitting ragtime score. (Some characters practice their instruments individually before band practice, much to the annoyance of other characters.) Some of the characters have lost their faith in humanity, but others can find glimmers of hope from time to time. And the film's oversize ending sums up Andersson's feelings in a beautifully succinct way.
Keep your eyes peeled for this potential classic and if it comes to your town, don't miss it on the big screen.