Songs from the Second Floor

"Excellent"

Songs from the Second Floor Review


Ingmar Bergman once called Roy Andersson the world's best director of commercials. The statement is almost too weird to wrap your mind around; one wonders, to begin with, where the director of The Seventh Seal might have run across a commercial - does he watch TV? What? Game shows? Sex and the City? - and how it is that he's familiar enough with the form to know and compare directors. As it happens, the very weirdness of the statement embodies perfectly the timbre of Andersson's 2002 comedy Songs from the Second Floor. From the dizzying commercial pinnacle to which he's ascended, Andersson has a unique perspective on the world below. And the view from up there is weird indeed.

In Andersson's world, normal human phenomena take on the inscrutability of the surreal. When a magician accepts a volunteer from the audience, for instance, we expect the volunteer to not actually get sawn in half; Andersson asks us to drop that expectation. Traffic jams, in the real world, have limited durations and a determinable cause; in Songs from the Second Floor, they stretch on through the night and no one knows why. Work produces income, but in Andersson's film no one can afford to work anymore, and the man who holds the explanatory memo - a very complicated, problematic memo - has lost it, and it can't be redone.

The plot of Songs from the Second Floor defies explanation just as surely as its traffic jam, and even an outline is useless. The theme of the film pertains to the millennial end of the world, as evidenced in the fall of industry and the disintegration of the social fabric in the nameless Scandinavian city in which the action unfolds, and the huge cast of characters includes sundry pasty-faced businessmen, a senile millionaire who controls a majority of his country's real estate and who is prone to returning greetings with a Nazi salute, a young man driven mad by poetry, the hapless magician, a salesman hawking statues of Jesus, and many more. Andersson brings their stories together loosely, building to a crescendo in which the country's industrialists flee en masse, self-flagellants take to the streets, business leaders resort to magic to restore the economy, and the dead return from their graves.

Matching the serenely wigged-out content is Andersson's inimitable style. Songs from the Second Floor is told in a series of 50-odd tableaux, recorded in long takes by a static camera, a kind of mise-en-scène taken to rational limits and beyond. Andersson holds these scenes for uncomfortable durations while virtually unpredictable events unfold within the frame. In one scene at a mental hospital, for instance, a father bemoans his son's condition to a doctor in a white coat who is making notes; before long another doctor appears in the hallway and reclaims his coat and notebook from what turns out to have been a patient all along. ("There was a wallet in here," the doctor says upon examining the coat, but it turns out he has his wallet after all.) In another, a board meeting descends into chaos when one of the businessmen present observes that the building across the street is moving; the resulting jam of hysterical CEOs and vice-presidents at the doorway is resolved only when one person present calmly asserts to the others that the door opens in, not out.

Songs from the Second Floor is a unique (and sadly overlooked) document of the surreal at work within the confines of modern society. Its new DVD release, from New Yorker Films, includes illuminating commentary from Andersson, a few worthwhile deleted scenes, and technical information about the shoot that only serves to deepen the mystery of the mesmerizing and hilarious final product.

Aka Sånger från andra våningen.



Songs from the Second Floor

Facts and Figures

Run time: 98 mins

In Theaters: Friday 6th October 2000

Distributed by: New Yorker Films

Production compaines: Easy Film, Nordisk Film & TV Fond, Roy Andersson Filmproduktion AB, SVT Drama

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
Fresh: 30 Rotten: 4

IMDB: 7.7 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: as Kalle, as Stefan, Bengt C.W. Carlsson as Lennart, Torbjörn Fahlström as Pelle Wigert, Sten Andersson as Lasse, Rolando Núñez as The foreigner (as Rolandp Nunez), Lucio Vucina as The magician, Per Jörnelius as The sawed man, Peter Roth as Tomas, Klas-Gösta Olsson as The speechwriter (as Klas Gosta Olsson), Nils-Åke Eriksson as Patient, Hanna Eriksson as Mia, Tommy Johansson as Uffe, Sture Olsson as Sven, Fredrik Sjögren as The Russian boy

Also starring: ,

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