About Endlessness

The hovering couple inspired by Chagall's Over the Town

 

In one of the first scenes in About Endlessness, a waiter brings a diner a bottle of wine, opens it, sniffs the cork to check the wine is OK, then walks over to the right hand side of the diner to fill his glass. Holding the bottle near the bottom, the way a practised waiter does, he pours the wine precisely into the glass, then keeps pouring, pouring, pouring, until the wine overflows and starts pooling over the table. The diner, who’s been stuck behind his newspaper, suddenly notices.

If you’re not familiar with the work of Swedish director Roy Andersson, this is a typical entry into his world. About Endlessness doesn’t mark much of a departure from his last films, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence and You, the Living. If anything Andersson has doubled down and pared his minimalist style back even further. Like the earlier films, what we get is a series of vignettes, shot with a locked camera, featuring characters who barely move, barely speak, all situated on sets that are drained of colour, lit incredibly flatly, as if every touch of gloss has been removed.

Other scenes: a woman breaks the heel of her shoe in a railway station, picks it from the floor and moves on. A man who doesn’t trust banks hides some money under his mattress. Another man says hello to someone he recognises and is rebuffed. And then, in among these scenes from the humdrum everyday – Hitler in his bunker, a man in a market slapping a woman, a crying man cradling a young woman he has clearly stabbed to death.

Three girls, a propos nothing at all, start dancing outside a bar. A young couple discuss eternity in terms of the mutability of energy.

The everyday sits next to the tragic, next to the disastrous, next to the comic, and even, in the case of the dancing young women, the joyous. Snapshot moments, which is how Andersson shows them, but not decisive moments – those have happened off camera and earlier.

If you’re looking for a story, you’ve come to the wrong place, though there is one character Andersson returns to again and again – the priest who has lost his faith and who has nightmares about being crucified like Jesus Christ.

 

The priest dreams of crucifixion
The priest’s dream of crucifixion

 

Existential is how Andersson’s films are often described, but there’s also a strong note of nihilism, though he himself has described About Endlessness as being in some ways an attempt at a 1001 Nights of separate stories. His Scheherezade, though, is experienced only in voiceover, a monotone female introducing each vignette with the same formula – “I saw a man who…” or “I saw a woman who…”.

“My agenda is having the audience, just like the king in the story, wishing the film would never end,” Andersson said in an interview. Whether you will never want the film to end or are wondering whether it’s ever going to end  probably depends on your appreciation of Andersson’s deadpan style. What makes About Endlessness a slightly tougher sell than his previous films is that there’s far less humour on display this time round.

Mark Chagall’s painting Over the Town pops up twice, first in the opening scene, where we see Chagall’s sublime couple floating up in the clouds. They return later in another aerial shot, this time hovering over the city of Cologne bombed to bits at the end of the Second World War.

As a viewer it might be best to think of yourself as one of those two floating people – high up, blithely disconnected from the details that would turn the abstract into the concrete and as a consequence piecing together stories from the fragments being offered by Andersson. I wish you the very best in your endeavours.

 

 

 

About Endlessness – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2021

 

 

Bacurau

Procession at the funeral of Teresa's grandmother

 

Two opinions of Bacurau from Amazon’s Top Reviews of this film. “One of the worst movies we have ever seen,” said Scout in a one star thumbs-down. “We were both regretful that we paid to give away time that we cannot get back watching a movie that was this painfully stupid.” On the other hand Cameron Brady, giving Bacurau five stars, said, “This movie is simply fantastic. It touches on subjects of socioeconomic disparity, racism, colorism, etc. but keeps a certain humor and charming weirdness as well.” I can sympathise with both points of view. If what you want is a good strong story told in an efficient way, Bacurau is a load of crap. If you’re after something that’s really a movie about movies – with genre teases and in-jokes scattered throughout – your bus to referential heaven has arrived.

“We have taken a powerful psychotropic drug and you are going to die,” says kindly magisterial teacher Plinio towards the end of Bacurau at about the point where the plot has finally declared itself. He works at the dusty, dry Brazilian town’s local school, the Escola João Carpinteiro – translated out of Portuguese that’s the John Carpenter School – and says this about the point that it’s become more obvious that we’ve been watching a psychedelic version of Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13, except the Precinct is now a remote Brazilian village and the assaulters are a gang of out-and-out weirdos armed to the teeth.

The Carpenter influence was obvious all along, in retrospect. That was even one of his bouncy synth tunes on the soundtrack a bit earler. But there’s a mountain of spaghetti western in here too, the trippy sort that you find in Jodorowsky’s El Topo. And is it fanciful to suggest that the structure – snapshots of different people and events just kind of loosely montaged together – owes something to Altman’s Nashville? I came and went on that thought.

A herd of wild horses stampedes through the town. Two randoms are having sex in a side room. A pair of bikers show up in lurid one-piece outfits. A mad guitarist serenades anyone who’ll listen to his impromptu songs. A butt-naked old dude mists his hothouse succulents and air plants.

And then a flying saucer arrives. By this point it doesn’t seem out of place. But there is a nominal focus for the action – Teresa (Bárbara Colen), daughter of teacher Plinio (Wilson Rabelo). She has arrived back in town for her grandmother’s funeral, to find that it’s got no water. Eventually a truck carrying water turns up, but it’s been shot full of holes. After that the two oddly attired bikers arrive. And not long after that onto the screen climbs Udo Kier, patron saint of the bonkers movie, as the leader of a gang of psychopaths who are going to menace the village for reasons that never really become clear. It doesn’t matter. The plot is not the point.

 

Sonia Braga (centre) in bloody coat
Sonia Braga (centre) as Dr Domingas

 

Those looking for an allegory could zoom in on the fact that the village seems to pivot around teacher Plinio and fierce doctor Domingas (Sonia Braga), rationalist forces confronting the psychos, all from more developed countries, by unleashing a secret weapon of their own – Lunga (Silvero Pereira), a nutjob who lives a safe distance away but is there to be called in on occasions just like these.

At one point the psychos have a weird conversation about race, in which light-skinned “dark” people are compared unfavourably to dark-skinned “white” people. It’s obviously a scene designed to point out how irrational alt-right demagogues like Bolsonaro can be (because they’re the target, surely). Popping a bizarro cherry on all this is the fact that the psychos seem to be on some sort of vacation break – they appear to have booked this blood-frenzy weekend as part of a tourist package deal. More allegory.

At a stylistic level it’s a brilliantly made film, full of old fashioned stylistic quirks like wipes to change scenes. Technically, it’s modern through and through, a pin-sharp bright and clean-looking film delivered in the way only digital can do (on this budget).

Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles have worked together several times, with Dornelles usually on production design. Here he gets a co-director credit. Quite who did exactly what isn’t clear but something’s changed since their last film together, 2016’s Aquarius, which tackled social issues (and also featured Sonia Braga) in a much soberer, more straightahead fashion. Perhaps that’s the film one-star Scout should watch.

 

Bacurau – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2021