Roy Andersson is one of the world’s most unique film-making talents; any clip from one of his many films is immediately identifiable as being his idiosyncratic style. It’s easy to label him; lazy comparisons with Monty Python have dogged his career for decades, usually from people who identify surrealism as if the British comedy group invented it. Of course, surrealism is a far larger movement, and has far more to offer than comical or absurd sight-gags; Andersson has made a career from his meticulous view of the world, and Fred Scott’s documentary provides an introduction for novices, plus a refresher course for those familiar with the Swede’s work.
Of course, there’s a tonne of arriviste appreciation for Andersson’s work of late; his A Pigeon Sat on A Branch Contemplating Existence was a worldwide hit in 2014, but looking past his best film, Songs from the Second Floor in 2000, it’s always worth questioning fans as to which of his films they admire. This new fangled fashionability hasn’t often been the case for Andersson, whose films have previously been cult items. Scott’s film reveals a remarkable process, or craftsmanship and experimentation, but also pictures the director on the ropes, nursing a drinking problem, unable to access the skill that created his best work. As a tribute to the man, it falls somewhat short of respectful, and that feels like a fault. Given that the film that resulted, 2019’s About Endlessness, turned out pretty well from most accounts, Andersson’s on-set behaviour pales beside the many accounts of other people’s directorial excess recorded elsewhere.
That said, there is a lot to enjoy here. Andersson’s films have a flavour you might find in a Michael Sowa painting, a flat, drab frame into which a new, off-kilter element appears, like the marching band in Pigeon. So to see Andersson’s office, a townhouse with large windows offering a view of passing humanity, is to gain some insight into his personal point-of–view. And the clips from some of his minor films deserve attention, and might lead to them being accessible or available outside his homeland. But none have quite the impact they already do, in the context of his films. Aside from describing one negative character trait, there’s not much else in the way of insight provided here.
Being a Human Person is likely to pile-up four star reviews from those keen to be associated with his brand, or to suggest that they have seen or understood his films. But as a tribute to a great-film-maker, Scott’s film is too concerned with revealing Andersson’s feet of clay rather than capturing anything of the essence of the man, whose persona life is barely documented here aside from a cool 1970 interview; while intriguing, this entertaining documentary doesn’t quite match the vitality of his fearless, challenging films.
Being a Human Person arrives in the UK from Oct 16th 2020.
Thanks to Curzon/Artificial Eye for access to this title.