Film review: ‘About Endlessness’ is steeped in deadpan absurdity

Roy Andersson's scenes are artfully staged, with precision and humor


If you’ve never seen a film by Swedish director Roy Andersson, then you should treat yourself to his singular sense of absurdity and watch “About Endlessness.”

It’s a deadpan look at loss and humanity, but each scene has a deliberate staging and filming that makes it look like a work of art — and in particular a painting by the Neue Sachlichkeit artists, with everything in focus and clear and distinct. (The 1920s German art movement was a direct reaction to expressionism, and the term is roughly translated as the New Objectivity or Sobriety.)

In “About Endlessness,” the movie’s seemingly unconnected scenes are introduced by a woman who serves as the Scheherazade. She is voiced by Jessica Louthander, and each introduction follows the same pattern: “I saw a woman … a communications manager, incapable of feeling shame.”

Still for Roy Andersson's "About Endlessness"
Still for Roy Andersson’s “About Endlessness”

Another example, which is probably the most visually stunning scene in the movie, begins: “I saw a couple, two lovers … floating above a city, renowned for its beauty, but now in ruins.”

The city, it turns out, is Cologne, which was bombed during World War II. And its re-creation in “About Endlessness” gives you an idea of the meticulousness of Andersson’s film style.

Andersson, who was praised by famed director Ingmar Bergman as a great director of Swedish commercials, made so much money in advertising that he was able to build his own studio — known as Studio 24.

Producer Johan Carlsson says that the model of Cologne was built in the studio by set designers who used lasers to cut models out of Styrofoam in standard building shapes. To achieve the look of devastation, they crumbled bits off the models by hand.

The couple who are hanging from wires over the Cologne set were specifically inspired by Chagall’s paintings, Carlsson says in notes for the press

While meticulous, Andersson also imbues each scene with a deadpan absurdity that makes you laugh uncomfortably, mainly because you realize that Andersson loves humanity for its hopefulness, but also believes, ultimately, in hopelessness. Such is the case with a modern-day Christ figure carrying a cross in urban Sweden as a crowd glibly chants “crucify.”

Then there’s the priest who has stopped believing in God — and a man who lost not only his faith but also his legs, in war.

In each case, the viewer is looking into the scene, directed by the narrator. It’s almost as if we’re spying, getting a secret glimpse into Andersson’s vision of life.

To get a taste of the absurdity, a young man in one scene tells his girlfriend that their “energies will meet again in endlessness,” in effect, a promise of endless love. But that is followed by the observation: “Then again, maybe you’re a potato or a tomato.”

If you’re interested in exploring Andersson further after watching “About Endlessness,” then you might want to check out “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence” (2014), the last in his “Living” trilogy.

“About Endlessness” starts streaming  May 7, at the virtual cinema of the Austin Film Society,

Charles Ealy
Charles Ealy
Charles Ealy is a former movies editor for The Dallas Morning News and Austin American-Statesman.

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