Songs From The Second Floor (2000), or Modern Cacophony

1 11 2009

Normally the lyricism of film is an alien thing compared to the lyricism of poetry. One isn’t necessarily better than the other, but they certainly have their differences, as anyone who has either read a poem or seen a movie could attest to. But today’s film, Songs from the Second Floor, has magically combined the two. It has the beauty of both formats combined into a printed image. Based on the poetry of César Vallejo, this Swedish art-house film really has no peer in the American art scene, so it’s a fascinating look into another world far across the ocean and deep into hearts not so different but stranger in a distant way.

It’s a tale of modern sadness and a cynical view towards the world we are making in the 21st century. Through a series of vignettes shot with a totally static camera, director Roy Andersson takes us through the disturbingly formal world of city life. With a floundering, gaunt economy looming large over the heads of our characters, who are not really deep, real people as much as they are philosophical postures that Andersson uses as a springboard. With characters like the man clinging to the leg of his boss, crying that he cannot lose his job after being so loyal to his company for so long, the economist who becomes desperate for an answer to the crisis and consults a crystal ball, the stock brokers flagellating themselves, marching beaten through the streets, or the son of a furniture store owner, waiting for him after he burns the store for insurance money, we are given only snippets of these people. They are shadows of this modern society, wraiths and forsaken spirits writhing beneath the shadows of skyscrapers. What will become of them and their sad existence? What will become of us, in this contemporary culture Andersson so disdains?

Every now and then, an exercise in form and philosophy is so potent that it puts even the most disciplined conventional films to shame. Songs from the Second Floor will have you enthralled, even as you choke on the ashes of your flammable modern world. It’s just so good that it will make you want to bone up on your post-modern philosophy (A-hyuck! I said bone up on…).  With comedy as black as the heart of Wall Street and a dire tone less serious than weary, it tests the limits of our ability to laugh and to feel with these incredibly emotional scenarios and these absurd characters of unusually rich philosophical insight. Andersson creates a world that is so damning of what we are as a Western capitalist culture that I might have to save a more detailed insight into it for an essay on the upcoming website (I’m not above tempting you with my insight to get you to come to my new site!).

I’m as impressed with Andersson as I am by his stable of gifted actors. Through his dense fog of murky filters, Andersson shifts a talented Nordic group of artists to bring meaning to each action, like the posing of players in a painting. Out of the short breadth these people get as far as creating multiple dimensions go, my two favorites here are Lars Nordh and Stefan Larsson, who play Kalle and Stefan respectively. Their vignettes are particularly wondrous, and I am officially hooked on their style of embracing the camera while it sits perfectly still. Andersson has to be the most audacious director in the sense that he isn’t directing at all in the traditional sense. Instead of moving the camera to encompass a canvas, he’s making the one shot as important and as visually meticulous as possible. It’s an effect that works wonders, especially in scenes like the upsetting magic show and the shocking, heart-breaking finale.

For fear of deterring you, I don’t want to even reveal that much to you about it or hype it up too much. I just think you need to see it. Not even because I’m entirely sure most of you will like it. But it’s an experiment and a powerful indictment against our very life and times. I’m impressed by Songs from the Second Floor, but I’m not going to harp on it too much, because like a delicate butterfly, I can see how I could ruin this experience by blabbing about it for 600 extra words. Just trust me when I say that it’s something you need to see. How about this; Go and see it, and in about 4 months, I will write an essay on it, and we can discuss it further from there. Deal? All right. Well, I give SftSF 9 twisted, haunting vignettes out of 10! A high recommendation!

Tomorrow I watch The Piano as per a request! Until then!