IN SWEDISH DIRECTOR Roy Andersson's best work, he eschews traditional plots almost completely, instead presenting a broken-up series of small moments—mini melodramas or tiny tragicomedies that play out in front of a static camera and mix the sensibilities of Ingmar Bergman and Jacques Tati.
Andersson's scenes are haunting—but more importantly, they're often hilarious, with inventive juxtapositions (a man getting slowly fucked while he describes his bank losing nearly all of his retirement savings), lots of deadpan, and surreal turns, like an 18th-century king stopping at a modern café on his way to battle to get a drink and use the bathroom.
The combined effect of these films—many presented by the NW Film Center this month as a lead-up to the Portland debut of the director's latest, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (screening Fri July 17-Mon July 20)—is a potent one. The stark tableaus that Andersson creates in 1970's A Swedish Love Story (screens Fri July 10-Sat July 11), 2000's Songs from the Second Floor (Sat July 11-Sun July 12), and 2007's You, the Living (Sun July 12-Mon July 13) will echo in your mind's eye for months due to their meticulously constructed visuals and how much of yourself you'll see reflected in them. You'll likely also recognize the influence that Andersson has had on Western filmmakers: Alejandro González Iñárritu brought the same episodic structure to Birdman, and a similar balance of sacred and silly can be found in recent efforts by Paul Thomas Anderson, who will be getting his own NW Film Center retrospective soon.
What's missing from this series is Andersson's short films, which are even more powerful than his features. Andersson's core ideas are crystallized to provide maximum impact as he addresses the AIDS crisis (1987's Something Has Happened) and a businessman's existential freakout (1991's World of Glory). Though they would have provided a welcome counterpoint to the director's grander visions, their absence won't diminish the strength and strange whimsy of his singular oeuvre.