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The End of the World as We Know It?
Interview with Roy Andersson
By The Context

C: Let's start with the look of Songs From The Second Floor - it's unusually visual, very rich and detailed.

RA: I felt that film-making generally didn't reach the level you could find in painting or literature or music. It was for one-time use only, and more and more, the movies were losing their visual power - they were concentrating on the plot only. Especially compared to the 1950s, when I was a student. It was that period when the so-called serious art movie came out, all over the world: we had the East European waves, Kurosawa, Bergman, English realism. That's why I started wanting to be a film director myself. It wasn't only the plot that was interesting; it was the touch, the feeling, something visually rich.

C: The way you use long, single-shot scenes without cuts - and don't move the camera within them - is particularly unusual these days.

RA: Normally when you see a film with many cuts, it's to avoid problems, because of lack of money, patience, talent. If you don't move the camera and don't cut, you have to enrich the picture in deep focus - that's what you have. I think a good theoretical writer on film is Andre Bazin - he preferred deep focus. I do too. When you look at the history of paintings, they're in deep focus all the time, and that makes you very curious, and you become an active spectator.

C: Let's talk about the themes of the film. It captures a very millennial sense of things slipping out of control.

RA: Yes. There are many themes in it, but one is that the short-term perspective lets things slip out of control. We don't control the stock market, for example - it's a lottery. We are building our civilisation on a lottery system. I think in the long run, things have to be more planned. It doesn't sound good, a planned economy, you think of Stalinism and so on, but there is no alternative.

C: There's a strong feeling in the film that materialism is bankrupt today.

RA: In some areas in Sweden - for example in advertising, where I've worked a lot - when you're young, you're pushed to get a good job, earn a lot of money, get to the top. After 10 years, you can already see the bitterness. 'What? Why? How did I spend that time?' By 40, they are finished. It's sad to see.

C: At the same time, you don't seem to hold out much hope for the consolations of religion. I'm thinking especially of the mass-produced Jesus figures, and the line, 'How can you make money on a crucified loser?'

RA: I've been criticised for going too far there. They think it's too much in Sweden, I got letters. But I defend Jesus! The movie shows how misused he is. He's a superficial symbol only. The Church have been very successful in economics, because they are very rich, fantastic buildings and so on - but they have not been successful with preaching the testament. Jesus seems to be only a product.

C: How did you get such an original film made?

RA: Originally, I didn't get much response to the script. It was a special script - not a storyboard and lines, more like descriptions of each scene. But I made 7 commercials in 1995 and for the first time in my life had some profit, so I could make the first 10 minutes. And as soon as I had that to show, in combination with my script, it was much easier to raise money. Still, I invested all I had. The production period was 4 years, from 1996.

C: Songs From The Second Floor is your first feature in 25 years. The last one, Giliap, was a disaster at the box office and with critics. Do you feel the disaster was justified?

RA: Yes. It was so different from my first film, A Swedish Love Story. People loved the first one, and were very disappointed that I didn't make a similar film. I think they didn't understand what I was doing. Later, when Kubrick came out with Barry Lyndon, people accepted that - it's the same mood. But these things take time.

C: In the meantime, you made some legendary commercials?

RA: I was out in the cold after Giliap. I had put my salary in the film, so I was totally bankrupt. I thought, 'I'll do some commercials, just to survive'. The commercials period was longer than I thought it would be - over 20 years I made 300. I'm not ashamed of them; they are not very typical commercials. I used them to find my style.

C: What would you do if the world was going to end tomorrow?

RA: Have a good meal.