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The cast of the film, many of whom have taken to acting as a side pursuit from less glamorous fields (insurance salesman, embassy chauffeur, computer programmer), give Andersson's work a heightened sense of authenticity, blurring the line between rehearsed lines and natural riposte.
Songs From the Second Floor was developed over the course of several years; Andersson began shooting the film in 1996 and eventually released it in 2000, where it received a Special Jury Prize at that year's Cannes Festival. I first came across the film a year later, purely by accident, at Roger Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival, where the unique beauty and overwhelming power of the film completely enveloped me. However, it wasn't until recently that I was able to track down a DVD version of the film, courtesy of New Yorker Films, and the opportunity to revisit the astounding visual display of Andersson's meisterwerk has proven to be as invigorating as the first time around.
A statement on responsibility, vulnerability and the general structure of modern society, Songs From the Second Floor is littered with allusions to power, trust, and the dependency of the masses on the competence of the few. Where Andersson differs from most filmmakers is in his ability to parallel the hurdles and trivial hang-ups of the upper class with those of the commoner, succeeding in his end not by championing the proletariat but instead by highlighting the hollow, pathetic fabric of the bourgeoisie, which Andersson deftly depicts as rotting from the inside out.
The film works on a plethora of levels, including the subtleties of interesting product placement, tongue-in-cheek, of items emblematic of power and success in less than flattering circumstances; a stalled Porsche, a broken golf club. Materialism, finance, religion, social compassion, health care, transportation, personal aspiration - nothing escapes the glaring lens of Andersson's camera.
Andersson creates more than a mere civic commentary, however; his methodology and composition are strictly artistic and Songs From the Second Floor succeeds far and away on its visual aesthetic alone. It is that aesthetic merit which serves as foundation for the film's broader social directive to infect the viewer, giving it a weight that simple political propaganda pieces never attain. Indeed, several sequences, including the film's final scene (which runs for more than five minutes), could serve as individual works, succeeding on the strength of a single brilliantly designed camera angle. That, however, should come as no surprise; Andersson has spent most of the past two decades filming award-winning commercials for Air France, Fazer and CitroŽn.
SEE ALSO: www.youtube.com/watch?v=j9mUx4EgLEg
Eric J Herboth
Eric J. Herboth is the founder, publisher and Managing Editor of LAS magazine. He is a magazine editor, freelance writer, bike mechanic, commercial pilot, graphic designer, International Scout enthusiast and giver of the benefit of the doubt. He currently lives in rural central Germany with his two best friends, dog Awahni and cat Scout.
See other articles by Eric J Herboth.
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