Screened as part of NZIFF 2001
Unique, arresting and often grotesquely funny, Songs from the Second Floor presents us with 45 obsessively composed dramatic vignettes of decaying civilisation, set in and around a clammy Nordic city resembling a 1930s surrealist prophecy of Y2K apocalypse. There’s no plot, only a cumulative sense of impending doom as the hapless cast of failed businessmen, insurance swindlers, crucifix salesmen and senile fascists fitfully negotiate their way towards the ultimate betrayal of future generations. — BG
Even if we never see the insurance-grabbing fire set by furniture salesman Kalle in the astonishing Songs from the Second Floor, the notoriously obsessive Roy Andersson is well aware that the jokes don’t come from the set-up, but with the punch line. Portraying the destinies of 50 different characters in a series of 45 carefully composed vignettes with no apparent logical construct, Andersson’s crafty, apocalyptic burlesque is what most people thought might happen when the clock struck triple zero… Andersson draws his influence not from filmic sources, but painterly trompe-l’oeil, and the German expressionism of Otto Dix and Max Beckmann. As well as real life, of course – Andersson found his actors in restaurants, on the streets and in… Ikea. Andersson’s in medias res wonders (scored by ABBA’s Benny Andersson, no relation) are more than the sum of their parts. He is selling a distinct, bleak view of the human condition. — Mark Peranson, Vancouver Film Festival 2000.
Each sequence is suffused with spectral disquiet and a black comic squeak of hysteria; together they form a secret theatre of millennial anxiety. And the climactic set-piece in which a young girl is sacrificed to ward off the world’s catastrophe surely has to be one of the most extraordinary moments in modern cinema.
Andersson has something of Woody Allen and Terry Gilliam, but with strains of anarchy and melancholy that are unique. Here is a film to try the patience of the non-believer, but astonish everyone else. Some might find it a curate’s egg of strangeness. But it’s one of the Fabergé variety. — Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian, 16/2/01
We are all swimming in this soup of absurd values and heritage we were brought up with. But perhaps we should start to accept that we have ourselves created these circumstances which render us helpless. When you see Songs from the Second Floor you should get an idea how stupidly we behave – when you see it, you are really looking at yourself. — Roy Andersson