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About Endlessness: A Tableau of the Human Condition (Review)

About Endlessness: A Tableau of the Human Condition (Review)

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About Endlessness crafts a tableau of short vignettes about the human condition with director Roy Andersson’s signature absurd existentialist theatrics. 

The latest film from Swedish auteur Roy Andersson, About Endless (Om Det Oändliga) captures the human condition in all its dull and grandiose glory—all in a concise 76 minutes. More like glances at quick brushstrokes than a gaze at a complete painting, About Endlessness is comprised of a series of short vignettes featuring a variety of arbitrary moments of misfortune, suffering, despair, love, loss, and existential meanderings. An eclectic cast of nameless characters experience some of the most significant and inconsequential moments of their lives, giving us a window into what it means to be human, whatever that might be.

Some moments are just everyday occurrences while others drift into a fantastical dimension. A woman arrives at a train station not expecting to be met by anyone. A priest who has lost faith in God visits a psychiatrist. A soldier about to executed refuses to die. A group of prisoners march through a snowy field to a labor camp. An embracing couple floats through the clouds above the ruins of a city. Spending no more than a couple minutes with each scenario, we don’t learn much about each character and their predicament beyond the brief glance we’re granted. Our only guide through this menagerie of various stages of human existence is an omnipresent narrator who recalls each scenario with fleeting memories like “I saw a man with his mind elsewhere” and “I saw a woman who thought no one was waiting for her.”

Meanwhile, a static camera gazes on scenes set in meticulously designed backgrounds of train stations, restaurants, and cities. Often drenched in a drab palette of greys, browns, and splashes of somber blues, About Endlessness occupies a distinct look brimming with despair and unspoken existential angst. Even its human faces are drained of color, as its characters adorned with a sickly pale complexion aimlessly wander through the cruel, absurd worlds they inhabit. Yet the film isn’t entirely a grim affair—there’s a sly, dry sense of humor pulsing beneath its droll surface in moments like when a careless waiter gets distracted pouring a glass of wine and spills it all over the table.

A scene from ABOUT ENDLESSNESS, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Watching About Endlessness often feels like you’re slowly wandering through an exhibit of paintings come to life or watching a dispirited play performed with careless detachment. While a couple characters appear more than once, there’s not a consistent narrative or emotional arc to connect with and it’s often an alienating film if you’re looking for something to easily engage with. It demands your full attention, and despite a deceptively short 76-minute runtime, it can feel tedious with its glacial pacing. It’s not unreasonable to ask yourself what the point of all of this is as you watch a man awkwardly cry on a bus or see a businesswoman stare out a window, only for the film to cut to the next scenario.

About Endlessness’ extremely sparse storytelling and dry absurdist tone is clearly an acquired taste, especially if you’re not familiar with Andersson’s style, and it’s not at all unreasonable to walk away from this film thinking you’ve just stumbled upon a beautiful and moving tapestry of the human experience or simply a meaningless practical joke masquerading as high art. Despite its subtle humor and livelier moments like a scene where three girls dance outside a café, it’s not a very engaging watch unless you’ve given it your full attention and permission to sweep you away on an eccentric, existential journey. And perhaps, just like our own lives, its brilliance lies inside its banality and absurdity that we can’t make much sense of.

See Also

About Endlessness: Trailer (Magnolia Pictures)

About Endlessness will be available everywhere from April 30, 2021. Click here for more information on the film’s official site.


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