Finished right on time for the new millennium, Roy Andersson’s 2000 opus Songs From The Second Floor captured the apocalyptic mood of the world’s deepest pessimists with mordant black comedy and mind-blowing cinematic tableaux. Andersson’s attitude was so bleak—and the lumpen souls on display so pallid, dreary, and hopeless—that it manifested as gallows humor, his artful way of howling into the abyss. If we’re all living in a dark, unfeeling, godless universe with no possibility of salvation, he implies, why not have a few laughs about it? But after an achievement of that magnitude, what do you do for an encore? Andersson’s dispiriting answer is “more of the same,” which caused some on the festival circuit to dub his follow-up, You, The Living, as either More Songs From The Second Floor or Outtakes From The Second Floor.
The changes are partially unfair. Yes, Andersson has again crafted a mostly plotless series of deadpan comic setpieces (50 in all)—some of them intricately connected like a Rube Goldberg device, others amusing non sequiturs. And yes, the characters he follows are a pitiful lot, from a carpenter who imagines himself condemned to execution after a tablecloth trick gone horribly wrong to a young woman misdirected to a band rehearsal by a musician she meets in a bar. But You, The Living, if only by virtue of a more intimate scale than Songs, benefits from a lightness of touch and even a thin sliver of optimism in some sequences. Humanity may be doomed and many people may be selfish and joyless, but there’s real pleasure in the film’s Dixieland jazz tributes, and in one wonderful sequence that imagines a honeymoon suite as a moving train. Yet the sum of these parts isn’t as convincing as they should be. The vignettes in Songs are connected to a cohesive vision of society on the brink of apocalypse; here, they don’t syncopate as powerfully.