Documentary follows Swedish filmmaker Roy Andersson through creative genius and alcoholism
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Roy Andersson’s films defy easy explanation. The two with which I’m familiar – 2014’s A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence , and 2019’s About Endlessness – are by turns brutally funny, buoyantly serious, full of tenderness in one moment and terrible evil the next. To call them comedy-dramas would be like summing up a life as “that bit between birth and death.”
Documentary director Fred Scott has done his best to sum up Andersson’s life and get at the man behind the movies, and possibly succeeded as well as anyone can. When we meet Andersson he’s just turned 75 and is embarking on a new film – he says it’s his last – that will eventually become About Endlessness , a film whose poster features a haunting images of a couple in flight, and whose accolades include a best director prize from the Venice film festival.
Amazingly, Andersson shoots all his movies in the same location – a large, empty townhouse in Stockholm that he bought in 1981 and christened Studio 24. Scott’s behind-the-scenes footage is incredible, showing how miniatures, forced perspective, green screens and more can turn the finite space of the studio into an infinite number of places. (Andersson at one point muses that About Endlessness might better be called About Inexhaustibility or About Infinity .)
But Being a Human Person also captures the artist’s human side, including a persnickety attention to detail that causes his productions to be years in the making. (Ah, but would they achieve such greatness if rushed?)
More troubling is Andersson’s alcoholism, which threatens to overwhelm his life. Friends, family, fans and employees – and often those boundaries blur – worry for him. Andersson checks himself into rehab for 10 days, then abruptly leaves. His drinking has lessened, though his temper is the worse for it. And over the several years that this documentary took to shoot, we watch him visibly aging. Pudgy and balding, he looks not unlike one of the Swedish Everyman characters that populate his films.
I looked up my reviews of Pigeon and Endlessness and was surprised to find I had awarded them only 3.5 and 3 stars, respectively. But they have stayed with me, and I’d gladly revise those grades upward.
Watch Being a Human Person if you’ve seen and enjoyed any of Andersson’s work, for a look at the mind behind their particular genius. Or watch it if you haven’t seen his work at all. It may send you scrambling to find them – and that would not be a bad thing. To be curious, after all, is to be human.
Being a Human Person is available now through digital TIFF Bell Lightbox at digital.tiff.net.
4 stars out of 5