Roy Andersson Wasn’t Always Laughing At His Characters

09/10/2009 8:23 AM |

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The 40-year-old A Swedish Love Story is radically different from writer-director Roy Andersson’s recent work in that it isn’t radical at all. unlike late-career comebacks Songs from the Second Floor and You, the Living, this movie has scenes that add up to a narrative, the camera cuts within them—and, sometimes, it even moves! It does so to capture the budding romance between Annika (Ann-Sofie Kylin) and Pär (Rolf Sohlman), thirteen-year-olds whose turn-ons include pinball and strumming guitars. Andersson nails the rhythms and the details of the courtship process: for the first half of the film, the kids communicate only through silent, sidelong, pseudo-secret glances while pouting their lips, sporting leather jackets, smoking cigarettes and awkwardly struggling to project cool. On the margins, Andersson features a gallery of wretched adults, cautionary tales for the young lovers: miserable, middle-aged marrieds; Annika’s aunt, prone to crying fits; and Pär’s grandfather who, with tears in his eyes, pronounces that the world is no place for lonely people like him. In any of Andersson’s films from this decade, such a pitiful character would have been played for laughs. (Andersson’s typical deadpan, stripped of its mercilessness, comes through in flashes here, such as when a moped is outrun by an ordinary bicycle.) In this movie, though, we’re actually supposed to feel for him. And we do, as we feel for everyone in this carefully realized portrait. Andersson renders the petty tribulations of teenage romance persuasively epic, despite an over-reliance on a soundtrack full of Arthur Lee-style folk rock. But for all its gracefulness, sensitivity, class-consciousness and age-level accuracy—its lack of condescension—the film is still a slight document of puppy love and pursuit, l’amour du adolescent. Its generic title befits its generic content, no matter how lovely the execution.

Screening this afternoon and Sunday at MoMA, kicking off their focus on Andersson’s features, shorts, student films and commercials, which continues through the 18th.