Du levande

Du levandeSynopsis: YOU, THE LIVING is about the human being, about her greatness and her miserableness, her joy and sorrow, her self-confidence and anxiety. A being at whom we want to laugh and also cry for. It is simply a tragic comedy or a comic tragedy about us.

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Du levande 8.0

eyelights: the absurd humour. the stylistic photography.
eyesores: its inscrutable segments.

“Therefore rejoice, you, the living, in your lovely warm bed, until Lethe’s cold wave wets your fleeing foot.” – from the poem Hávamál, in the Poetic Edda.

‘Du levande’ is a Swedish film that premiered at the 2007 Cannes festival. It’s a pastiche of vignettes, often absurd or tragicomic, that are sometimes loosely interconnected – and sometimes not at all. It has won a handful of international awards and much acclaim.

I picked it up the other day at the library’s book store. I knew nothing about it until then, but I found the brief synopsis on the back of jacket intriguing; I loved the idea of a series small existentialist questions laced with humour. Since the price was right, I decided to give it a go.

I didn’t know this at the time, but it is the second part of an incomplete trilogy that began with ‘Sånger från andra våningen’. It is also apparently a collection vignettes, but there doesn’t appear to be any relation between the two aside from their structures.

Perhaps the two films, and the eventual trilogy, also share similar thematic elements. Based on this film alone, I think that it would likely be particularly difficult to connect them, to ascertain ways in which that they relate; ‘Du levande’ could be inscrutable at times, its intention hard to define.

But I really enjoyed it. I loved the weird humour that peppered it, the unique look of the piece and the familiarity of many of the situations – the vignettes hold a certain truth that is unmistakable: life may seem extremely hard or dramatic at times but it isn’t hard to find absurdity in it.

Some of my favourite bits were:

– The kitchen manager staring out of the window after telling his staff to go back to work. We get the impression that they are in a  highrise, until the camera pulls back to show them three feet above the ground. Then an old man with a walker slowly makes his way across the frame, dragging a squirming puppy on a leash behind him – by a hind leg. It was such a strange image that it had me in stitches.

– The obese woman straddling the bassoon player, a recurring character, slowly bringing herself to orgasm while he moans… about his financial situation. I loved this for two reasons: 1) the filmmaker did a role-reversal, where usually it’s the man getting off while the woman is distracted or disinterested, 2) I adored seeing her going for it, and doing it in a natural way – not in the screaming, athletic fashion of Hollywood productions; she was moving ever so slightly, enough to get what she needed out of it. Lovely. Plus which she was wearing the bassoon player’s helmet – even though they were both naked. Awesome.

– The barber who gets upset with his client and gives him a memorable trim. It was so abrupt we couldn’t help but laugh at this one.

– The suitor who brings the apple of his eye a beautiful bouquet, barely having the time to reach out and show her the flowers before she closes the door on them. He turns away, dejected, leaving the flowers hanging between the door and door-frame. This image was ridiculous enough to get a lot of laughs out of me, even though one can’t help but feel for the guy.

– The young woman’s dream of being married to her favourite rock star. At first we see the two newlyweds in what we suppose is their apartment – he’s playing guitar while she sits on the edge of their bed. Then we start to notice that something’s not quite right outside the window: they are in transit, and the scenery is ever-changing outside. It turns out that they are on a railway, with their whole block (complete with other inhabitants) on the move. This “motorhome” was a simple concept, but it was visually interesting.

That’s another thing that I really liked about ‘Du levande’ is its visual style. Even though I suspect that most of the locations weren’t sets, because I presume that a Swedish production couldn’t afford to build everything, everything looked like a set; in particular, the inside looked real, but the outside seemed like a set backdrop.

That was interesting, because it means that the director found a way to light locations in such a way as to make them seem unrealistic. It was a unique blend of realism and artificial. Also, the locations all looked grey, bleak, like some Soviet block-era setting that’s been slightly modernized. I don’t know, it was unusual in its own way.

Furthermore, the picture looked like a ’70s european production in some ways, instead of a more modern one. Part of it was the static camera, which was often set straight on (perfect for breaking the fourth wall – something that takes place a few times here), looking at the scene as though it were a stage play, but it was also in the colours and overall vibe of the piece. It was at once familiar and original.

I think that ‘Du levande’ is difficult to adequately put into words for the uninitiated. It’s one of those motion pictures that simply needs to be seen to be understood – or to be baffled by, as the case may be. I suspect that it would be most enjoyed by fans of Luis Buñuel’s works, people who can appreciate abstract cinema and who enjoy reflecting on the absurdities of human existence.

Date of viewing: June 8, 2013

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