Monday, December 07, 2009

Songs From the Second Floor

There is nothing I like more than watching a film I have no expectations for and having the movie blow me away. I have to admit, it doesn't happen a lot because the more films you watch, the harder it is to be surprised, shocked and moved by what you are watching. The brutal truth of it is if you watch hundreds of movies a year for twenty five years in a row--you get kind of desensitized by the onslaught of what you watch.

But you also never give up hope that the next movie you watch will be the one that lights some unexpected spark inside your heart as it unfolds. While I enjoy many new films throughout the year, only a few times a year (if that many) does something come out of nowhere to leave me awestruck, dumbfounded and tingling with pleasure as I watch it. I just finished Roy Andersson's Songs From the Second Floor a few minutes ago and am in such a state. Wow!

Andersson has only made three feature films in forty plus years as a filmmaker (this is only his second feature, coming twenty five years since his first in 1975; he's also made numerous shorts and commercials in his native Sweden) which makes this movie all the more astonishing to me. Songs From the Second Floor is a cinematic work of art, fully recognized by decades of contemplation regarding content, message and design. It's something I might have to watch a second time to let every image sink further into me.

Songs From the Second Floor is not the easiest film to watch at times. It's a raw, no-holds barred indictment of modern society, utilizes no clear story or lead characters, has passages where little or no dialogue is uttered and embraces surreal, Kafkaesque scenes that deliver Andersson's bleak message for the world we inhabit. The main star of the film is the unbearable, pervasive malaise that accompanies much of the human existence in Andersson's world. Call me crazy but witnessing such unabashed doom and gloom has never been so riveting!

Andersson spends time concentrating on places where normalcy should reign supreme. We see hospital rooms, bars, apartments, lobbies and hallways--all lit with eerie, otherworldly artificial lighting that is hauntingly gorgeous and soul crushing at the same time. Andersson loves the long take (as do I). He bathes his characters in wondrous long shots with zero camera movement (another thing I prefer) as they stare off into space, lost in near catatonic dazes. There are traffic jams that stretch through every Stockholm street, young girls being sacrificed by the government and clergy for no reason, mass panic on the streets as the world seems to be crumbling around us all and other forms of unexplained events. None of it moves the story forward but it adds to the general sense of foreboding present in the film. This may not sound great or interesting but it is.

Songs From the Second Floor is a magical realization of director Roy Andersson's vision. It's uncompromising, daring, beautiful, maddening, depressing, humorous, quirky and something that I won't be forgetting anytime soon. I'm now aching to see Andersson's 2007 film You, The Living when it comes out on DVD. If it's anything like this, I'm in for an exhilarating experience. Highly, highly recommended if you are into something outside the mainstream (or just really good movies!).


larry said...

Where did you see this?

Joshua Blevins Peck said...


This won the grand jury prize at Cannes in 2000. I forgot to mention that.

Bungle said...

Saw this a few years ago and was equally impressed though at the time I couldn't have articulated way, as you do.

Joshua Blevins Peck said...

Bungle--I don't know how I missed this big regret is that I didn't see it in a theatre instead of at home. Would have made it even better!

Bungle said...

It's in Beaks Top 25 of the decade.

Joshua Blevins Peck said...


I don't know who Beak is but cool it's in the tops of the decade.