About Endlessness is a unique film from Sweden that is slightly reminiscent of
some of Ingmar Bergman’s films especially his Silence of God trilogy because it
painfully artfully explores the lack of meaning of life and general hopelessness
of existence. But is also conveys the joy that can happen by accepting life’s
little absurdities. It is a difficult film to process or to review because it
often employs dream logic or no logic at all.
It (along with the Italian reincarnation film Le Quatro Volte) is a notable
example of the genre called slow cinema. The movement is a highly arty type of
film that typically includes extremely long takes and contains extraordinarily
little plot. These films may push some viewers hard to construct their own
reality or meaning from the few crumbs of logical, understandable visual moments
in the films. It takes a lot of work to process the films.
Although it was finished in 2019, About Endlessness has only recently become
available for streaming on Vudu, Google Play, Spectrum, Apple TV, iTunes, and
FandangoNOW. The film is in Swedish with English subtitles.
About Endlessness is a boldly experimental minimalist film that contains many
elements of absurdism and surrealism. The film has no extended plot that goes
beyond a few minutes and is made up of a series of over 30 odd and sometimes
lovely vignettes often shot in a single take that only tenuously
connect if at all.
Sometimes the shots become static (often while using deep focus) for extended
periods of time, or the screen goes black and viewers not familiar with his
style might think there is something wrong with the movie or film makers. These
shots may be used to knock viewers out of their emotional or mental lethargy.
The film was directed by the Swedish avant-garde director, Roy Andersson. He has
declared that he is going to retire, and this will be his last film. This feels
a bit like a summation of his career, and he returns to many of the themes of
his early works. The film was allegedly tough to complete because the director
was going through bouts of alcoholism and detox during the making of the film.
Andersson is best known for his critically acclaimed “living trilogy” of films,
Songs from the Ocean Floor (2000), You the Living (2007), and A Pidgeon Sat on a
Branch Reflecting on Existence (2014). He is very acclaimed in his native
country and so far, four of his films have been submitted to Academy Awards for
consideration for Best Foreign Language film. His work is too weird and esoteric
to have a serious chance of winning. Compared to him Lars Von Trier is John
Some critics have paradoxically argued that he is able to achieve more realism
than most film makers even though he avoids some of the conventions of realism
such as avoiding the exclusive use of non-actors and making everything stagier
and more artificial.
The film opens with its most beautiful shot of a couple floating in the clouds
deliriously happy in Cologne over the Nazis who are creating havoc during World
War II. It may be implying that when faced with historical tyranny and brutality
we need to still cling to life’s little pleasures (aren’t many people caught in
the throes of romantic love lost in the clouds?). Art lovers will notice that
the shot evokes Marc Chagall’s The Weepies which depicts a similar (but arguably
not as beautifully rendered) scene.
In the most disturbing sequence in the film a pastor suffers from a recurring
dream in which he is chased down the streets he is forced to carry a cross after
being savagely whipped and beaten. He struggles to carry his heavy cross which
threatens increasingly to weigh him down as he tires. But the odd thing is that
he is dressed in a modern business suit the whole time and the people oppressing
him are wearing jeans and the incongruity will may provoke uncomfortable nervous
laughter from viewers-perhaps the same kind of laughter that was inspired by
David Lynch’s Wild at Heart when I saw it in a theatre.
But the dreams are not just cheap parodies of a passion play. The same priest
later goes to a psychiatrist and like Father Karras from The Exorcist he admits
he has lost his faith which makes it hard to go on ministering. A psychoanalytic
interpretation would also see the cross in the dream as the burden of going on a
preaching without any belief or the director struggling to complete the film
during his bout of alcoholism.
The priest can also be seen as representing modern people who frequently have
trouble believing on anything including what constitutes reality-how many still
believe for instance there was no virus?
Other moments also may inspire viewers to laugh at life’s day to day ridiculous
banality. There are many moments when an unseen female narrator describes
something as if were happening right then, but it does not happen until she is
done. “I saw a woman who had problems with her shoe,” she declares, before we
see a woman staggering on a broken heel at a train station. Sometimes life is a
It is more amusing than it sounds because her voice is as solemn that it gives
the event as much gravity as a life changing event. The film is jarring when it
switches from depicting the sublime to the banal in a second.
You get the sense that the film’s strange and unconventional use of time
signatures was done to mess with the minds of the audiences, and it is sometimes
hard to tell if an individual scene takes place before or after another one. The
same technique was used by David Lynch in his film Lost Highway.
But the film cannot be reduced to a depiction of despair. What joy the film
shows come out of little day to day moments like when three men observe three
women that spontaneously dance as if they were having the best time of their
lives. Suspense is generated because we hope but are not sure the men will join
them. Even the smallest events take on a large significance.
Of course, as you may have figured out, the film was not designed for a casual
viewer, and it could not ever be confused with a popcorn movie. Like previous
great existentialist works such as Albert Camus’ The Stranger, the film
suggests since there may not be a big plan or meaning behind everything viewers
can enjoy little moments in the here and now.
The slow pace and deliberate portrayal of grim images of emotional despair is designed to capture life’s real-life tedium.
This is juxtaposed with brief moments of
joy and bizarre humor will put off most viewers who may see the film as
difficult, opaque, and obscure. But adventurous art film buffs (especially fans
of David Lynch) will find much to admire and adore in the film.
Directed & Written by:
Bengt Bergius, Conny Block, Lisa Blohm
043021 (USA), 090319 (Europe)
At press time film is available for purchase or rental
on Vudu, Google Play, Spectrum, Apple TV, iTunes,
© 2021 Roy Andersson Filmproduktion AB
Review © 2021 Alternate Reality, Inc.