ABOUT ENDLESSNESS

★★★★

A MAGICAL JOURNEY THROUGH ROY ANDERSSON'S FIELD OF DREAMS

THEATRICAL REVIEW
By Daniel Lammin
14th February 2021

endlessness (noun) the property of being (or seeming to be) without end.

It's hard not to have an emotional reaction to a word like "endlessness". The definition may be clear and succinct, but what the word itself evokes is something primal, voluminous yet incapable of being articulated in words. In these instances, where words fail to communicate, cinema can be at its most thoughtful and powerful. We saw a stirring example of this last year with Charlie Kaufman's haunting 'I'm Thinking of Ending Things', a film that begins with that statement and then exists within it for over two hours, considering it from all angles, breaking it apart, trying to make sense of it. With 'About Endlessness', beloved Swedish director Roy Andersson pulls a similar magic trick with the existential concept of endlessness, a trick which won him the Silver Lion for Best Director for the film at Venice in 2019. With tremendous skill, imagination and generosity, he muses upon what this word means to us as a species, and invites us to muse along with him.

'About Endlessness' has no narrative. It is a series of vignettes, often only a few minutes long, almost none of which carry through longer than a single appearance. In all cases but one the camera is stationary, the image carefully composed to an almost artificial degree. Each features a woman's voice - a narrator - beginning her observation of the vignette with the words "I saw..." In many cases, we arrive in media res, with no context for who these people are. Within each vignette, an epic plays out. It may be as simple as a man checking the money under his mattress before bed, or as enormous as a defeated army marching across a frozen tundra. What holds them all together is this single word - endlessness - and what it stirs inside us, and how it can connect us to the joy and sorrow of being alive.

'ABOUT ENDLESSNESS' TRAILER

I must confess to never having seen a Roy Andersson film before, only knowing his work by reputation, but almost immediately, it is clear from 'About Endlessness' why he holds such great esteem. A film like this risks coming apart at the seams - especially its artificiality and its potential to be an intellectual exercise - but what Andersson crafts here is an almost entirely emotional experience, each carefully constructed moment considered from the heart rather than the head. This is a film that invites you to feel, and creates a safe environment in which to do so.

His approach lies in the liminal space between photography, theatre and cinema. Each vignette is perfectly constructed and painstakingly controlled down to the falling of a snowflake or movement of a cloud, with the artificial flatness that can come from digital still photography. Andersson and cinematographer Gergely Pálos make no attempt to hide the heavy use of subtle CGI to construct the images, but this works to the film's advantage. It gives the impression of stepping into a dream, like an illustration from Chris Van Allsberg or a René Magritte painting. The action within the frame and the decision to lock off the camera, placing us in the position of observer, gives each vignette a theatricality reminiscent of the stage, where we are aware of the artifice in front of us, where a careful magic realism can exist, where we can move through seemingly disconnected moments like in a Caryl Churchill play, and where the wall separating us from the action is gossamer thin. Without these careful photographic and theatrical languages, the tonal and thematic conceit of 'About Endlessness' wouldn't work, we wouldn't buy the deliberate rejection of conventional storytelling and reality, but it is the cinematic language that completes the puzzle. A photograph cannot move, and a stage cannot shift time and space in its entirety; it needs cinema to do this. From an aesthetic perspective, there's a sense of art forms in conversation with one another in this film, and the results are simply magical.

A whimsical, charming, deeply moving and quietly devastating portrait of longing, loneliness and the need to connect with others.

Beyond the aesthetic though is a whimsical, charming, deeply moving and quietly devastating portrait of longing, loneliness and the need to connect with others. Though very few of the vignettes connect in a narrative sense, the thematic connections are potent and powerful, with each positioned deliberately within the structure of the film to benefit both itself and those around them. These little windows into simple, often isolated lives speak to the joys and sorrows of making one's way through the world, regardless of how illogical and absurd it can be, and Andersson allows us to find our way into them through their artificiality. It seems obvious to say so, but 'About Endlessness' is a film of dreams, the camera travelling into our collective subconscious in a way few films are able to. In the end, we all want to belong somewhere, whether that somewhere be with others or on our own, and the endlessness made manifest over and over in the film depends on our relationship with our belonging. For Andersson, endlessness is just as much about possibility as it is a purgatory. There is magic to be found in the vastness of existence just as much as isolation or oblivion.

As I watched 'About Endlessness', I could feel the well of my soul filling to the brim. It is a balm of a film, a reinvigorating experience, a bowl of the best chicken soup you've ever had which you are invited to drink slowly and to savour every new and surprising mouthful. Roy Andersson takes us into this magical, absurd and hopeful world of the subconscious and offers a safe place to sit, consider and dream. The idea of endlessness can be an overwhelming, soul-crushing thing to consider - and a lonely one - but with a film as sublime as this holding your hand, it can also be breathtaking. 'About Endlessness' is pure poetry, a work of deep and generous humanity.

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