February 12–27, 2022

It’s Not Easy Being Human: The Films of Roy Andersson

Extraordinary … Andersson is renowned for his brilliant tragicomic visual gags and dreamlike visions, with hints of Beckett, Fellini, and Monty Python … His films are profoundly different from the work of any other filmmaker.”

Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

A meticulous, perfectionist film artist whose funny-sad visionary work has been described as slapstick Ingmar Bergman” (J. Hoberman, Village Voice), Swedish director Roy Andersson has made but six feature films in an unusual career spanning almost six decades.

Andersson is best known for his astonishing Living Trilogy”—comprising Songs from the Second Floor (2000), You, the Living (2007), and A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (2014)—and his most recent (and possibly final) feature About Endlessness (2019). Singular works all, they have established Andersson as one of the 21st century’s most revered filmmakers.

Andersson’s films employ droll, deadpan humour (a mix of Kafka, Beckett, and Buster Keaton) and striking, painterly style to explore the multitude of ways (mundane, profound, absurd) it’s not easy being human.” His visual arsenal includes trompe‑l’œil technique, tableau-vivant-style composition, and a static camera; he favours nonprofessional performers, who play comically sad-sack characters; his narratives are structured in episodic, vignette-like fashion; a mood of existential angst and apocalyptic dread hang heavily, hilariously, in the air.

Born in Gothenburg in 1943, Andersson graduated in 1969 from the Film School of the Swedish Film Institute, where he studied under Bergman and served as an assistant to Bo Widerberg. His first feature, A Swedish Love Story (1970), a lyrical humanist comedy in the mode of the Czech New Wave, was a major critical and commercial success. Giliap (1975), his daring second feature, was a decisive move towards the dark, absurdist humour and exquisite visual tableaux that are now his trademark. The strange tale of a waiter at a dead-end Swedish hotel, Giliap was much delayed and ran well over budget due to Andersson’s now-legendary perfectionism, making the young director a pariah in the Swedish film industry.

It would be 25 years before the appearance of Andersson’s third feature, the astounding end-of-the-millennium nightmare Songs from the Second Floor, itself some four years in the making. In the meantime, Andersson had established a prominent career, and gained cult status, as a maker of elaborate, surreal, Monty Python-esque commercials for a variety of products (from insurance to chocolate to political parties). One Swedish critic has described these absurdist ads as miniature art films”; Bergman himself called them the best commercials in the world.

Unsettling and uncompromising, grotesque yet gag-filled, Andersson’s apocalyptic vision, his bizarre, bracing view of ghoulish consumer capitalism and its hapless, enervated victims, makes for visually enthralling, mordantly comic cinema.

This retrospective showcases all six of this distinctive filmmaker’s features, including the rarely-seen early works A Swedish Love Story and Giliap, as well as two pivotal, provocative shorts, Something Happened (1987) and World of Glory (1991).

Andersson has earned our lasting gratitude. Few living directors beget work that carries so clear and so immediate a signature.”

Anthony Lane, The New Yorker

The Cinematheque is grateful to Steve Gravestock, Senior Programmer, Festival Programming, TIFF (Toronto), for his generous assistance in facilitating the Vancouver presentation of this retrospective.

“It’s Not Easy Being Human: The Films of Roy Andersson” was made possible as part of Nordic Bridges 2022 in collaboration with Harbourfront Centre, Toronto, and TIFF

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List of Programmed Films

Date Film Title Director(s) Year Country
2022-Feb A Swedish Love Story Roy Andersson 1970 Sweden
2022-Feb Songs from the Second Floor Roy Andersson 2000 Sweden
2022-Feb You, The Living Roy Andersson 2007 Sweden
2022-Feb A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence Roy Andersson 2014 Sweden . . .
2022-Feb Giliap + World of Glory Roy Andersson
2022-Feb About Endlessness + Something Happened Roy Andersson

Feature Image: A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, Roy Andersson, 2014