Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Songs from the Second Floor

Posted By on Wed, Aug 14, 2002 at 12:00 AM

That the world is hurtling toward a bad end and that society is unraveling at the seams are always timely topics, and Swedish writer/director Ray Andersson knows how to give the old evergreens a fresh avant-spin. Once again, as in last week’s Code Unknown, we have a film that consists of a series of vaguely related, unedited scenes, but where Code director Michael Haneke went for maximum fluidity in cramped quarters, Andersson favors the wide-angled opening shot followed by minimal camera movement, if any. The resulting series of tableaux are all bathed in an eerie blue light that intensifies the film’s bad dream quality.

There is a plot of sorts, or at least a main character, Karl (Lars Nordh), a poor soul who has burned down his furniture store for the money and who finds himself being dogged by the ghost of a man he once swindled, who in turn is being followed by the ghost of a hanged man still wearing his noose. Karl is a shambling hulk, a wretched example of excess bad conscience, but very much a part of the world around him which consists of the insane and the discarded, the inept, the desperate and the bored. At first we get snippets that are either comical (a man recently fired clings to a co-worker’s leg and is slowly dragged down a long hall) or plaintive (a subway of sad sacks turns into a ghostly choir). But soon the mood becomes one of increasing chaos, leading to endless traffic jams and ritual sacrifice.

I so wanted to like this film that I almost feel like apologizing for my rather mild response to it. It’s certainly original and some scenes are very impressive. Yet it’s also, at times, slow and obvious. Plus, there’s a hint of sanctimony in Andersson’s end-time worldview. A little more charity toward his characters would have been welcomed. But as depressive screeds go, this is one to see. It’s a pip.

Showing exclusively at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit), Monday. Call 313-833-3237.

Richard C. Walls writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail him at


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