SONGS FROM THE SECOND FLOOR
(Sånger Från Andra Våningen)
Songs from the Second Floor is certainly not the apocalyptic near End of the World science-fiction film some reviewers seemed to see it as. There is an inexplicable perpetual traffic jam an image that was far better crafted into a vision of social breakdown in Jean-Luc Godards Weekend (1967) and the Terry Gilliam-like image of a horde of civil servants running through the streets flagellating one another. However, a vision of social downfall this does not make. There are ghosts and a reasonably effective scene where we realise that one person that Lars Nordh is talking to on a station platform is actually a dead business partner. You can sort of see all this parable about the weight of the dead but it still feels more like a load of weighty claptrap that has been read in over a slim and vague aspect of the plot.
Indeed, vague and slim are words that could be used to describe the whole film. There is no real plot just several vignettes and interwoven fragments of stories, but most of these never amount to much. The film was directed with every scene shot in a single camera set-up with no cuts an effect that is somewhat dramatically distancing. There is a lurking sense of black humour the magicians trick of sawing a person in half that goes wrong, the man who has just been fired refusing to let go of his bosss leg as he is dragged down the hallway. You feel that the film needed to push these scenes much further. There is a scene with a military centenarian who is being read an official commemoration and in the middle of it suddenly says Give my regards to Goebbels and gives a Nazi salute and you keep expecting the scene to burst out into something incredibly blackly funny as the greeters try to ignore what is going on. Only it doesnt. The whole film needed to come out somewhere near the hysterically deadpan blackness of Lars von Triers The Kingdom (1994) to make this work. Instead, it is a piece that sits at an oblique distance. Nothing ever emerges in terms of humour, drama or anything. This is one arthouse exercise that seems impossibly overrated.
Director Roy Andersson next returned with You, the Living (2007), which likewise offered up several plotless vignettes, each of which were shot using only a single camera set-up. This is a better film than Songs from the Second Floor, although its surrealism does no broach the overtly fantastic. Andersson next returned with A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (2014) about birds viewing a series of surreal vignettes of human affairs.