"I'm happy to hear you're doing fine," he says to the
unidentified and unheard caller. In one of the running gags of
this laconic but droll movie, the distraught man is not clearly
heard and has to repeat the platitude.
Andersson, one of Sweden's most successful filmmakers since
Ingmar Bergman, and the creator of many often hilarious
television commercials, does not do superficial or light.
His Venice film, which is in contention for the festival's top
Golden Lion award, takes its name from a bird that can be seen
sitting on the end of a leafless tree branch in winter in a
painting by the 16th-century Dutch painter Pieter Bruegel.
That information will not help unravel the meaning of the
seemingly only barely related vignettes that Andersson has woven
into a feature film.
Most of them are shot from fixed camera positions held for the
duration of the scene, in the style of Charlie Chaplin, who is
one of Andersson's cinema heroes, and which could take a month
or longer to prepare and film, he said.
"You asked me what is it about," Andersson said in response to a
question at a press conference. "It's about our life, it's about
us, this movie," he said, which was the closest he came to
answering the question.
"I have been involved, and made movies, with storytelling before
but now, today, I don't think it's very interesting, it's boring
for me to look at cinema with stories, with complications and it
comes out happy in the final scenes," he added.
"I want to make sure you go down in life and tell about
different things, about...living, human beings."
Those people include a hefty tango teacher who has a crush on a
handsome lad in her class who rejects her advances over a lunch
in a posh restaurant where their tiff is seen, but not heard,
from outside through a huge picture window.
Two of the recurring characters are a pair of sad-sack traveling
salesmen selling shopworn novelty items including vampire fangs
and a fright mask. Their clients stiff them for payments and
their supplier is chasing them for money, but they keep up the
pretence that their products make life entertaining.
[to top of second column]
Most improbable is the appearance of Sweden's late 17th-century
militarist King Charles XII, who invaded Russia but was defeated at
the battle of Poltava in 1709.
He is shown leading a horse-cavalry battalion in 17th-century
military regalia through a bleak modern commercial landscape as seen
from a fixed camera angle inside a coffee shop.
Charles actually rides into the coffee shop, on his horse, through
large double doors, while all the women are told to leave. He orders
a mineral water and attempts to pick up a young man behind the
counter, telling him he is too handsome to be doing such work and
inviting him to sleep in his tent.
Andersson said he wanted to explode what he called a right-wing cult
centered on Charles who he said "was afraid of civilized living and
could only live within a war".
"And of course it's very clear that he was gay, there's nothing
special with that, but on the other hand he was been a symbol in
Sweden for a macho man, so...the right wings they adore him as a
symbol for power but they have not confessed or dared to say
publicly that he was a homosexual.
"So I really wanted to have a more correct description of our
history," he said.
Historical accounts do not necessarily agree with Andersson.
(Reporting by Michael Roddy; Editing by Ralph Boulton)
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