Thursday 17 March 2011

From the archive: "Songs From The Second Floor"

Written and directed by Swedish maverick Roy Andersson, and featuring music by Benny from ABBA, the bizarre Songs From The Second Floor consists of a series of meticulously composed tableaux that resemble what may have come about if Bergman, the Pythons, Kafka and the League of Gentlemen had collaborated on scenes from the end of the world. It begins as sight gags - a magician saws through an unwitting victim, who's taken to casualty struggling to hold his severed necktie together - but starts to accumulate background details (such as the corporate flagellants making their way through gridlocked traffic) which suggest an apocalypse of sorts is on its way. Everyone is made up and lit to look as rotten and anaemic as possible, and the unnerving middle section contains several instances of the performers looking beyond the camera at something coming up behind the audience's backs.

Otherwise, its countdown to zero is much the same as that of recent American disaster pics. Crowds charge about in a state of mass hysteria, the military stand by powerless, a crippling bureaucratic regime serves only those already well-off or in power, while a father tries to engineer a reunion with his mute son, and goes on to find Jesus; the only difference being that in Andersson's vision, Jesus is to be found swinging from a cross at a sales conference. One problem with watching the film in this country is that the background business rather distracts from the action and characters (and subtitles) in front of it; the unremitting, monochromatic deadpan also threatens to stifle any life the characters may have left in them. The final twenty minutes, though, are truly extraordinary, boasting at least two jawdropping scenes of scale, and a Body Snatchers-like punchline that comes out of nowhere. It makes a serious bid for the title of weirdest film I've ever seen, and you may prefer to see it now, of your own volition, rather than happening across it on early-hours TV in a few years' time and wondering just what the hell you've stumbled into.

(February 2000)

Songs From The Second Floor is now available on DVD.

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