SOCIABLE DISTANCE | You, the Living

Andersson paints a picture of humanity whose intimacy and communication is thwarted at every turn. By Louis Rogers


You, the Living opens with a man asleep on a sofa in his office. A train goes by outside and he wakes violently, before turning to the camera to report an awful dream. But he’s asleep long enough to encourage us to notice the picture hanging above him: a reproduction of Picasso’s famous sketch of Don Quixote. Over the course of the rest of the film, we duck in and out of dreams – the familiar trope of the “dream sequence” gets stretched into a leakier, more pervasive form. And then, when the film’s closing scenes seem to depict the nightmare that the office work woke from at the very start, the prospect is raised that the whole film has been some kind of – or somebody’s – dream. Don Quixote is the right visual epigraph for all this: a book in which dreams and fantasy stealthily come to usurp the real world’s reality.

Roy Andersson’s film is constructed from separate, sketch-like vignettes – many of them contained in single, boxy rooms, and all confined by single, static camera shots. At first these scenes seem disparate, with their frictional difference from one another deployed as a kind of punch-line, but gradually connections appear. A husband and wife suffer the aftermath of an argument at their respective jobs at a carpet shop and a primary school. One set of characters look out their window into two flats over the road – each the setting of another sketch. And explicitly and implicitly, certain scenes are dreamed up by the characters in another – even if, à la Don Quixote, the dreams end up wearing the trousers epistemologically speaking.

Through stifled conversations, mismatched lovemaking, sublimated violence, and repressions of all stripes, Andersson paints a picture of humanity whose intimacy and communication is thwarted at every turn. But an authentic longing emerges from these misconnections, just as an air of dreamlike coherence emerges from the tissue connecting the film’s fragmented scenes. Using eerily topical idioms of separation and distance, Andersson’s film ultimately celebrates connection as an inevitability against the odds.

 

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