Movie Review By Moira Sullivan
Sweden is usually associated with cinema master Ingmar Bergman. His films are contemplated worldwide for their intricacies and inner meaning. Ingmar is now 80 years old and has quit making films. And there is another master in the house, less well known who spent four years making Songs From the Second Floor-- filmmaker Roy Andersson. Sharing the jury prize at Cannes this year with Samira Makmalbaf's Blackboards, it has won five awards at the Swedish Oscars--the 'Golden Beetles'-- for best film, director, script, and cinematography.
At the age of 24 Andersson made A Love Story which won 'Best film' at the 1970 Berlin Film Festival and served as a model for Swedish filmmakers. Four years later he made what he called a spoof on gangster films called Gilliap, axed by the Swedish critics. But as characters in his newest film continually explain, 'everything has its own time'. And Andersson's time has come again.
Gilliap has been reclassified as a cult classic and has a dedicated following. Andersson has also spent 15 years making some of the best commercials in Sweden. Several short films are noteworthy such as World of Glory, a portrait on human desolation, and Something Has Happened a provocative film on AIDS commissioned by the Swedish Public Health Board who later withdrew their endorsement.
Exquisitely hand crafted, every scene in Songs from the Second Floor is arranged as a magnificent portrait and every inch of space accounted for. The scenes become one grand kaleidoscope where memories of each vignette spill over to the next, unified by a compelling soundtrack by Benny Andersson of ABBA, in part sung by the cast.
Andersson believes that films should have eternal references and has made a portrait of humiliation in a materialistic society anywhere from 1950 till now. Karl, a 60-year-old furniture storeowner has burned up his business for insurance money. He claims his son has gone crazy from writing poems who is in a mental hospital. His other son drives a taxi.
Anytown is plagued by a freak traffic jam with tooting horns and rumbling motors serving as counterpoint to a society increasingly gone haywire. Hitting bottom with a market crash, businessmen and women are seen flagellating themselves in penance for their sins. Desperately they seek solutions to their misery such as consulting a gypsy with a crystal ball, and by sacrificing a young girl in hopes that their financial crops will bloom again. Everyone is plagued, clergymen as well as laymen. False prophets abound such as a 100 year old high commander who on the occasion of his birthday asks his men to say hi to Nazi General Goering. Crucifixes are sold in bulk and displayed at trade fairs, to be discarded later in junkyards as a bad business idea.
Although this could be anytown, the film reflects the values of the Swedish Lutheran culture and a system of social welfare built in the 1930's acknowledging the weak and vulnerable that is slowly being dismantled. On a daily basis someone says, ' we do the best we can to put some food on the table and to make it nice', /even though feelings of general discontent seep through and a pervasive envy of anyone who has it more than a crumb better fills the air.
Andersson claims we are responsible for the circumstances that make us helpless. "Blessed are those who sit down" is a citation by poet Cesar Vallejo to whom Andersson dedicates this film, used ironically to drive the point home. Songs from the Second Floor is a prophetic nightmare to stop the chains of guilt and humiliation.
This is Moira Sullivan for Movie Magazine International Stockholm, Sweden
© 2001 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 3/01
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