roy andersson’s “about endlessness”

This was published in Film Comment as part of its News to Me digest for the week of April 30, 2018.

Adolf Hitler in his bunker. A midwife who loves champagne. A divorce prosecutor who doesn’t trust banks. A man who hasn’t yet met love.

These are some of the characters slated to appear in About Endlessness, the next installment in Roy Andersson’s singular collection of blackly comic films about the human condition. Consisting of a series of loosely connected—and meticulously designed—vignettes, About Endlessness is similar in tone and style to the director’s Living Trilogy (which concluded in 2015 with A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence), except for a few key differences.

For one, About Endlessness features a voiceover—a first for the director. “There’s a fairy describing things she has seen, both beautiful and horrible,” Andersson, who is currently filming in his studio in Stockholm, told Film Comment. The narrator is modeled on Scheherazade in Arabian Nights, “who escapes execution by telling the king interesting stories. Since there are endless interesting stories about mankind, she can keep telling them for 1001 nights.”

Cinematographer Gergely Palos, who previously collaborated with Andersson on A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, is shooting the film. Palos added that About Endlessness has a “more free” structure than the Living Trilogy. “There is no story. There are some characters which we see in several scenes, but there’s no story at all.” Visually, the film will be slightly more expressive in its use of light and color. “It’s a bit more emotional,” he said.

Andersson is known for his beautiful, hyperrealist sets, which are constructed from scratch within his studio. Palos said that their process starts with the watercolor paintings Andersson makes for each scene, some of which the director shared with us below. “Based on the drawings, we usually do a test in an empty studio, without any set, to find the best angles,” Palos explained. “And then we build the scene.” He prefers this method, he said, because it allows him to envision and plan the scene without being constrained by the set.

A variety of artistic influences usually inform Andersson’s films: Songs from a Second Floor was inspired by Peruvian poet César Vallejo, while Pigeon drew upon a number of references, including Fellini, Buñuel, and painters such as Francisco Goya and Bruegel the Elder. About Endlessness is visually inspired by the work of Vincent van Gogh and surrealist painter Marc Chagall, Andersson said.

“One scene is very much a Chagall image with a young couple flying over Cologne, destroyed by bombs during World War II. We also recently shot a scene where the set design is inspired by a sketch by van Gogh called La Guinguette. And one scene in the film re-creates a painting by a Soviet art collective depicting Adolf Hitler in his bunker just days before his suicide.”

About Endlessness is expected to finish shooting in July and will be ready for festivals by April 2019. It’s a much faster production timeline than usual for Andersson, whose last couple films took about seven years each to be completed. “We have managed to refine our work process,” Anderson said. “It’s still meticulous and we still strive for very precise expression, but we have added some techniques to visualize the scenes before we start building the sets.”—Devika Girish

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