Being a Human Person (2020) ****

October 24th, 2020
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Fred Scott | Doc with Roy Andersson and his team, 90′

The Swedish auteur Roy Andersson (1943-) looks back on his life and his filmmaking style in this enjoyable first feature from TV/commercials director Fred Scott.

Made during the run-up to About Endlessness that won Best Director at Venice in 2019 Being a Human Person is Roy Andersson in a nutshell and perfectly describes a filmmaker whose deadpan tragic-comedies give dignity to people who have not been that successful in life: boring husbands, bland businessmen, the socially challenged or deeply unattractive. In other words, these people could be any of us or just those who have lost their way or become bored of their humdrum existence: the dentist tired of his squeamish patients, the clergyman who has lost their faith in God ( the priest in About Endlessness). Andersson sees himself in everyone of his characters – by his own admission – vulnerability and insecurity are the themes of his films, and constantly spill over into his creative process as he as he feels his way intuitively through what is possibly his last project with long-standing collaborators who have grown accustomed to absorbing the daily stresses and strains of the project. His is not an intellectual style but resolutely intuitive, and that means changes are inevitable. A scene that feels fresh and punchy on shooting may lose its clout in the rushes later that day. 

Looking like an affable twinkly-eyed Steve McQueen in archive footage shot after his breakout first feature A Swedish Love Story won awards at Berlinale 1970, he claims to have been “disgusted” by the film’s success. Now 76, Andersson has lost none of his gently genial charisma as he moves gingerly round the spacious central Stockholm townhouse acquired in 1981. “Studio 24” remains the headquarters of his daily filmmaking activities. Watching the world go by is a favourite pastime, as is eating in the Italian pizza restaurant opposite which is now home to his proudly-won Venice Silver Lion. 

But who is the man behind the enigmatic smile? Something tells us all is not well in Andersson’s world. His staff are not the only ones who have noticed a lack of energy and his increasing reliance on alcohol (“to avoid boredom” opines the director). Andersson freely admits to his penchant for a few drinks. It makes him more calm and docile to work with according to his staff. But do we detect a twinge of existential angst? A dose of rehab is on Andersson’s mind, but he gives up shortly after treatment has started, coming back energised with the realisation that About Endlessness will be probably be his final feature – and he wants it to his best. 

Making films is emotionally and physically exhausting. But he fears losing his daily raison d’être. His daughter Sandra appears to give a much-needed nutritious lunch (it’s worked already! laughs Anderson as he knocks back a bright green smoothie). She describes a love-filled childhood in a rented flat seaside flat in Gothenburg, while friends lived nearby in grand houses: “He found it stimulating to be the underdog”. She reflects. Meanwhile, family photos show an extremely affectionate father doting on his kids, and although it emerges his own father suffered longterm depression, no mention is made of Andersson’s own romantic life. “There’s enough material there for another film” says director Fred Scott. 

Being a Human Person is a masterclass in the Andersson way of filmmaking. Every feature consists of a string of tableaux, each one taking around a month to build, painstakingly by hand. The actors then perform a series of scenes shot by a static camera. Andersson describes them as short ‘film poems’ about life for ordinary people in scenarios that often give rise to iconic deadpan humour. The ‘greige’ aesthetics in immaculately rendered claustrophobic, airless settings feature ashen-faced characters glum, resigned or on the verge of tears. 

As an artist he continues to be appalled and dismayed by his fellow humans’ wrongdoing to humanity itself. This preoccupation is the focus of his “Living Trilogy” with its universal themes of compassion and connection, composed of Songs from the Second Floor (2000); You, The Living (2007) and A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (2014) . His short film World of Glory (1991) speaks of the unmitigated misery of ordinary life, but his most controversial work Something Happened (1993) was later withdrawn. 

Fred Scott offers up an affectionate and illuminating tribute to Roy Andersson that will hopefully encourage those bemused by his films to revisit them with greater insight. His collaborators are clearly fond of him despite his clever way of maintaining artistic control. And although Andersson emerges a man who feels deeply for humanity, Scott never really gets under his skin, his subject is clearly keen to keep his secrets intact:“You are a prisoner of your own mentality and that can be very hard sometimes” is all Roy Andersson will reveal. MT


Copyright © 2024 Filmuforia