Review by Sean Boelman
Roy Andersson’s About Endlessness is an art film in the most classical sense of the word — an abstract series of images connected by theme and not a whole lot else. And while there are some effective moments sprinkled throughout, its rambling meditations are unlikely to resonate with a majority of viewers.
The movie is a reflection on life and humanity as told through narrated vignettes depicting mundane happenings and historical events. Ultimately, the thing that the film seems to be most lacking in is structure. These images are often very profound, but there isn’t the connective tissue tying them together to make them into something greater.
Andersson’s film is definitely very erratically paced in that there are long stretches of stillness (even near-nothingness) and others that are total chaos. Viewers can expect to feel some pretty significant cinematic whiplash going from soothing scenes of people sitting down to someone walking through the street being whipped while carrying a crucifix.
It is clear that Andersson is more interested in exploring themes than anything else, and he does so with mixed success here. While he often says what he wants to get across in a way that is subtle and intriguing, he occasionally tries to go a bit more overt with the symbolism and it feels like he is beating the audience over the head.
Part of what makes the movie fail is that there isn’t as much connection with the characters as there needs to be. Of course, with this taking more of a vignette-based structure, it’s understandable that there isn’t as much of a focus on fleshing out each individual person, but the movie fails to connect us with them beyond our common humanity.
The acting of the film is also somewhat awkward. It’s as if Andersson got everyone in front of the camera and told them to try to act natural. It’s not that they are over-acting and going too big, even in the more extreme sequences, but rather, that everything feels artificial and forced in an attempt to make it mean something.
That said, the movie is absolutely gorgeous to look at. The cinematography by Gergely Pálos is stunning, with a few images that are absolutely unforgettable. It’s a work of astounding visual poetry, almost making up for the fact that its attempts at literal poetry through its writing so frequently fall flat.
About Endlessness is the type of film that scholars will be debating years from now, even if it doesn’t quite deserve it. It’s undeniably gorgeous, but struggles to straddle the line between ambiguous and abstract, leaving the viewer mostly unfulfilled.
About Endlessness hits theaters and VOD on April 30.