Sure to be one of the most surreal films to be released this year, the third part in Swedish director Roy Andersson’s thematic trilogy (following Songs from the Second Floor and You, the Living) attempts to explore the various facets of human existence through a series of 39 increasingly oddball and idiosyncratic vignettes. The closest we get to a main plot follows a duo of travelling salesman peddling novelty items – including the “classic laugh bag” and vampire teeth – who often appear in the different sections.
This is the type of film that you just have to throw your arms up and go with it wherever it wants to take you, no matter how bizarre or bewildering that may be. It’s less important what actually happens in each vignette – ranging from a dance class to a trip to the park – than how they’re put together and what they mean in the wider context. Absolutely stunningly shot in a way that’s both aesthetically exquisite and uncomfortably bleak, the film takes you on a wonderfully offbeat odyssey through the human condition in microcosm.
Every scene is constructed like an exquisite painting, pondered and laboured over for an age with love and attention to detail that oozes out of the screen. The use of framing is as beautiful as it is fascinating, substituting flashy camera movements for static shots and gorgeous deep focus that forces us to perk up and take notice of anything and everything that’s happening on-screen, whether it be the central figure of that particular scene or someone in the background that may or may not be consequential to the bigger picture.
The central conceit is to see the everyday events that your average pigeon would see from its perspective, which lends the film it’s rather segmented nature. But it’s more than just a series of short films smashed together; it’s all about life’s little idiosyncrasies, how each moment presents its own little story, however insignificant it may seem at the time, and the buildings blocks of that into something bigger. It invites you to be as much an active participant in getting what you want out of the story as it does a captive audience taking in the various, seemingly disparate plots of each segment.
What’s perhaps most surprising about the film – and there are lot of surprises stuffed into its 100 minute runtime – is just how funny it is. Sometimes dryly in the way that makes you have to think about it afterwards to truly appreciate, sometimes genuinely laugh-out-loud hilarious, but always in a truthful way that resonates even in the film’s most playfully silly Monty Python-esque moments. Life can be ordinary, strange, tragic and wonderful all at once and Andersson’s absurdist tragicomedy explores that in a visually striking, intriguingly peculiar and fascinatingly constructed manner.