I recently watched About Endlessness, a 2019 film by Swedish director Roy Andersson. It falls in line with other works by Andersson, including You, the Living (2007) and A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (2014).
The film is a series of vignettes that explore the absurdity, tragedy, and loneliness of life. They are comical and fantastical, mundane and realistic, all at the same time. Andersson probes existential themes, and although About Endlessness is a Swedish film with subtitles, it transcends country and language based its universal portrayal of humanity and the raw emotions expressed.
Andersson’s style consists of static scenes composed of single long takes with all action taking place within the frame—like a painting come to life. Andersson’s work exemplifies film critic André Bazin’s theory of mise-en-scène—with composition, lighting, set design, and production design being more important than editing.
And the wide-angle shots by cinematographer Gergely Pálos reminded me of the deep focus cinematography of Gregg Toland in Citizen Kane.
A subdued female narrator describes banal moments, like a woman with a stroller in a train station who loses one of the heels on her black shoes. “I saw a woman who had problems with her shoe,” the narrator explains.
This type of plotless film is not for everyone; it’s aimed for an art house audience. However, Andersson has a good sense of timing. Just when the viewer’s interest in a scene starts to wane, he cuts to something else. And with a running time of 78 minutes, the film does not drag.
A couple of vignettes really stood out for me.
In a crowded market, with fresh fish in the foreground and produce and cheese in the background, a woman with dark hair and a brown coat converses with a man. She then walks away, moving toward the fish station and eventually toward the center of the frame.
A bald man shouts to her: “I could see the two of you had a lot to talk about.” He then slaps her across the face. The other customers look on but do not intervene. He slaps her two more times and then some men step in and stop him. The bald man is wrestled to the ground, and he says to the woman: “You do know that I love you?” And she responds, “Yes, dear, I know. I know.”
This realistic portrayal of spousal violence filled me with unease. Yet I couldn’t look away. Putting myself in the middle of that market, I ask myself, “How would I have reacted? Would I have tried to stop the man from hitting his wife? How many slaps would he have connected on before I came to her defense?”
In the second scene I want to point out, Andersson depicts an urban bar/cafe during the evening hours with light snow falling outside the windows. Silent Night plays in the background, and we are unsure if the music is playing inside the bar or if Andersson is using the track as a music bed.
A dentist from an earlier scene has come in to get a drink, and he looks down at the countertop as he holds a glass. He appears melancholy, and the scene conjures an image of Edward Hopper’s painting Nighthawks.
A short male customer turns to the dentist and says, “Isn’t it quite fantastic?” When the dentist does not respond, the man turns to another customer and repeats his line verbatim. This time, a thin customer in a black suit says, “What?” And the man who asked the original question responds: “Everything. Everything. Everything is fantastic.” And the man in the suit says, “Well, yes.” And the little man adds, “I think so, at least.”
I believe Andersson elevates the art form of cinema through his portrayal of humanity, his mix of humor and pathos, and his willingness to let the viewer fill in the details or complete the narratives he has set in motion.