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Roy Andersson on ‘The Sorrow of Realizing That Life Is Passing’

Director Roy Andersson, who has won Venice Film Festival’s Silver Lion for best director, delivered his latest film, “About Endlessness,” much quicker than usual. The typically deliberate Swedish filmmaker is known for taking long breaks between projects – including one 25-year stretch he spent directing commercials. Since his 2000 comeback, “Songs from the Second Floor,” he’s averaged a film every seven years. He broke that record this year, delivering his follow-up to 2014’s Golden Lion winner “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence” two years faster than usual. “You are more skilled, more mature, and you know how to work better,” he explained to Variety. “But I don’t think I can work any faster than now. It will always take me at least three years to make a feature, so I think I’ll keep the same distance between works.”

How do you think “About Endlessness” differs from your previous work?
There’s more sorrow in this film. The sorrow of realizing that life is passing, and disappearing step by step. There’s a line in this movie stolen from Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya.” The characters are standing by a window, waiting for another member of the family, and finally someone says, “It’s already September.” It’s so melancholic, and so informative about how life passes. And that’s the first line of dialogue spoken in this film.

What kind of work goes into planning each particular vignette?
I have the ideas very early, without any order. The order comes up later in the process. Still, I know what I want to show – namely, different situations and human destinies – and to depict them as carefully as I can. The theme of any given vignette is important, of course, but what’s more important is the care with which you make them. My main ambition is to make each one with outstanding carefulness. Precision is one of the most important things in my filmmaking. Sometimes people don’t see the value of that tradition, but for me it’s very important, because if I made each scene without such precision, people would notice.

We return to the story of a priest who’s lost his faith several times over. What kept bringing you back to this idea?
Maybe you could say that he’s the only main character in the movie. He has a lot of things to carry on his shoulders! He has a sad destiny, to talk about God without believing. So he has a lot of possibilities [as a character]. I’m not religious myself; I just want to describe how people behave. But I have respect for religious people and their beliefs.

If you don’t have an order that is a little bit narrative, the film would be nothing. You must give the possibility to follow [a story], and find some meaning within the scenes. I don’t use them too much; this film has only three, but it could also be a good movie without them.

Because your work consists of many loose vignettes, how do you know when a film is done?
You get a feeling in your stomach. You can’t see any way to expand the film or find any place for another scene. I tried to think of some, but found it meaningless. The way it is now was enough. It’s a creative process, and intuition is very important. I plan my scenes for a long time, and the closer I come to shooting them I lose more and more of my realistic ideas, and prefer to abstract them. I think this movie has a good level now. You think, “I can stop here, and start on building the next one.”

Your views on abstraction changed over time, did they not?
[As a young filmmaker] I didn’t like abstraction; I liked neo-realist directors like Vittorio De Sica, and that kind of social description. That was my main ambition – to show the daily life of the working class. Step by step, I went over towards abstraction, even though back then I found it too intellectual, too bourgeois. Now, maybe I’m bourgeois myself!

Human behavior is fascinating, no matter if you’re a bourgeois or a worker. Through my many years of life, I’ve found that we are all very similar, especially when you’re old. When you’re old, in the hospital, and relatives come to celebrate your birthday, everyone is very similar in that situation.

“About Endlessness” pays homage to Marc Chagall and Ingmar Bergman. What other artists or filmmakers inspired you?
“Hiroshima, Mon Amour” was a very important influence for this film. And the scene [where a man confronts his estranged spouse in a supermarket] was inspired by Antonioni’s “Il Grido,” which is a very underestimated film. And I’ve already mentioned De Sica…

I think I am a singular director, in terms of my style and how I make movies. But at the same time, I’m so inspired by film history, especially European cinema from the 1970s. It was so good. I have the feeling that the film world today is more business oriented. Money comes first, before having something important to show. During the 1970s, I think business-considerations did not have [the same importance they do today.] The economic ambitions felt more withdrawn. Or maybe I’m being too romantic about it.

Do you consider yourself a romantic?
Yes. I think we all are. But I’m not very romantic. I don’t want to be. I want to keep both feet on the ground.

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