What is the meaning of life? Does human nature ever really change — indeed, can it change? If you enjoy pondering such big questions, I’ll spare you the rest of my 11th grade-level musings and refer you instead to the much more erudite and thought-provoking Om det oändliga (About Endlessness, currently streaming via the Virtual Roxie), a cinematic portmanteau of tragi-comic tales detailing the failures, foibles and occasional successes of our fellow human beings.
Directed by Swedish filmmaker Roy Andersson, About Endlessness is narrated by a nameless, omniscient goddess detailing some of the things she’s observed over the last century or so. It’s a non-linear, non-narrative commentary on the human condition consisting of a series of brief everyday occurrences — a few that verge on the surreal — within one 76-minute package. Andersson is in his late 70s, and the film feels like a weary summation of a life spent watching people make the same mistakes over and over again.
It would be pointless and boring to summarize each of the short stories in About Endlessness — there are 20 of them, give or take — but the film is anchored by the tale of a priest suffering from a loss of faith. First glimpsed wearing a crown of thorns whilst dragging a heavy cross up a steep street, the priest periodically reappears, culminating in a desperate plea for help that manages to be both deeply moving and mordantly hilarious.
While much of Andersson’s film focuses on life’s mundane little cruelties, he’s not averse to tackling bigger issues — especially the inanity and pointlessness of war. We’re shown an elderly couple visiting their son’s grave site, the unexplained beachside execution of a soldier, an army of German prisoners trudging their way to Siberia, Adolf Hitler and three inebriated generals in a last-days-of-the-war Berlin bunker, and — most memorably — a couple floating and embracing above a devastated cityscape. Whether an impressive miniature or a CGI creation, it’s the film’s most startling and memorable image.
Cinematographer Gergely Pálos’ palette is a limited one, relying primarily on muted tones of light grey, off-white and beige; the coolness of the colors matches After Endlessness’s dry, detached narration and subdued dialogue. Of course, if Swedish cinema has taught me one thing, it’s that Swedes aren’t a loquacious people — and Andersson’s film is all about the imagery, which conveys his message quietly and effectively.
Pacific Film Archive won’t be hosting any in-person screenings in the immediate future, but they continue to offer interesting streaming options for those of us still keeping our heads down. Director Maya Da-Rin’s A Febre (The Fever) is an intriguing Brazilian feature about a Manaus port security guard’s uneasy relationship with modernity.
Shot in pre-COVID times, Da-Rin’s film relates the experiences of Justino (Regis Myrupu), an indigenous Brazilian who falls prey to an unexplained fever in the big city; concurrent with his ailment, an unseen jungle creature stalks victims near Justino’s house on the outskirts of town. The Fever ponders the reality of the things we can’t see — and the significance of those we can.