August 1, 2009 [You, the Living]


 You, the Living is another Ikea-pastel magic-realist rumination from Roy Andersson—and maybe something more: one last party before Armageddon, a final chance to sing and play music and tell the truth. It instantly became one of my favorite musicals, a series of full-throated celebrations and complaints and memorials accompanied by the kind of songs sung at a High Mass and Irish wake, sing-alongs and sweet dirges filled with regrets and hope.

And so precise, so Swedish—its joys mitigated by perfectly framed images of melancholy, even cynicism—but the terrors of living an everyday life are not demeaned—just the opposite: We're asked to cry with them in their simple-minded misgivings and tired whining—because they sing in a register we all can match, it's the same damn song of misunderstanding and yearning that we've all sung since forever.

But the movie warns us that we are running out of time, that although we are, as Goethe points out at the start of the film, at the moment warm in our beds, our foot pokes out of the cover where there's a chill. I learned how to sleep that way from a friend who pointed out the pleasure of that double sensation, the warmth all over and the air-conditioned piggies down at the foot of the bed—and You, the Living has me feel that goosebump pleasure; it's the feeling of knowing that one day we'll all be gone—even as we bemoan our existence and wish we were dead—or maybe everyone else, get them the hell out of the way so that we can have a little time on our own.

But be careful what you wish for: that time will come, and soon—and you'll realize you don't want it: the day as it stands is nice enough; the band is playing somewhere, soft as a wishing dream or thin Swedish sunbeam. So sing, you little sparrow in the mead hall, warm for a while until you fly into the long winter.

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