Songs from the Second Floor

Songs from the Second Floor (2000)
★ / ★★★★

Kalle (Lars Nordth) was a furniture salesman who had recently gone out of business because his store was set on fire. His fears of not making ends meet permeated through other aspects of his life. Specifically, his frustration regarding his son’s recent psychological break was magnified because his child didn’t seem to show signs of improvement. But fear and frustration were not the only emotions that the picture tried to explore. It had a certain tenderness, a proclivity, for the absurd. For instance, the interminable traffic jam where all cars seemed to go in one direction, a group of people willing to murder a little girl for opaque reasons, and buildings that moved on their own. “Sånger från andra våningen,” written and directed by Roy Andersson, was ambitious because it attempted to tackle the big questions, events, and feelings prior to the year 2000. However, the messages weren’t clearly communicated because most of its symbolism took precedence. It didn’t help that there was little dialogue for the characters to be able to express their thoughts and feelings. I was desperate to piece together all the information it threw in the air but when I looked back at the big picture, I found it to be a rather confounding experience. I would have preferred if the film focused on Kalle as a guilty father and an even guiltier businessman with the strange vignettes either minimized to a side thought or excised completely. The vignettes, though visually appealing, disrupted the momentum of Kalle realizing that perhaps he was leading a rather empty life. To him, a meaningful life meant being financially successful. When his occupation was taken away, he didn’t know what to do with himself. I felt his pain through the way he treated his son. Instead of trying to understand his son’s condition by being a little more sensitive, Kalle screamed at him, ironically, like a madman. Being a businessman, he was used to being forceful to customers but such an approach was ineffective when dealing with a person who wasn’t quite there. When the picture focused on personal struggles, I found it engaging. Furthermore, I was fascinated by the movie’s attention to detail in terms of imagery. The walls were always grayish green, devoid of paintings, and an overall sense of warmth. Kitchens and bars resembled the impersonal feel of hospitals. People sat in restaurants but there was no food to be found. It looked like no one was ecstatic to be alive. “Songs from the Second Floor” was a challenging film. Although it completely embraced its bizarre nature and occasionally contained scenes that made me think, its walls at times were too high for me to climb. Perhaps when I reach middle age, I will come to appreciate it more. One of the characters emphasized the importance of having life experiences. It was a humbling reminder that perhaps I have a long way to go.

4 replies »

  1. Franz,

    although “Songs From the Second Floor” is my least favorite Roy Andersson movie (he has made only four feature films; I have not seen “Giliap”), I found much to like precisely in the loose structure that seems to have frustrated you. To me, it is less of a narrative movie as such than an episodic exploration of where the (potentially) numbing conformity of a social democratic welfare society meets the dehumanizing materialism of capitalism. (And I’m saying this as a fervent, card-carrying supporter of the social democratic welfare state as it is constructed around universal provision and egalitarianism in the Nordic countries). If this reading sounds vague, I’m with you, but it is in keeping with recurring themes in Andersson’s films. Notice how almost all characters seem to be unable to communicate, and when they say anything at all, it is often absurd and/or pessimistic.

    I seem to remember you like “You, the Living”, which was one of my favorite movies of 2007. My favorite Andersson movie is still “A Swedish Love Story” (1969), a (somewhat) more traditional narrative coming-of-age story with a very specific tenderness and sensitivity to nuanced characterization. In fact, it just might be one of my ten favorite movies of all time.

    • Reading what you just said was a lot to process but I always appreciate you for always making me think. I do believe that maybe this movie is one of those I may end up liking more over time. Thanks for pointing out that when characters did communicate, their words were often absurd/pessimistic. I didn’t catch that. It’s definitely something I want to observe the next time I watch it. I guess was too busy trying to make sense of how things fit together.

      Lately, though, I’ve noticed that I’m slowly learning to move away from plot and be more attentive of mood, texture, and atmosphere relative to what I think the filmmakers are trying to communicate. I’m not sure if I told you before but I like to keep in stock about 100 unposted reviews… and only growing. I think I saw the movie and wrote the review for it about a year ago. I have to admit that I think if I saw the movie now, maybe I can appreciate it more.

      Yes, I really enjoyed “You, the Living.” Thanks for recommending that one. I absolutely will check out “A Swedish Love Story.” It seems to be unavailable from Netflix right now but I’ll check other places to see if I can stream it. ;)

      • Franz,

        I’ve been reading your blog for about four years now, and I can attest to how your style and critical eye has improved and changed over time, so I would not be surprised if your perspective has continued to change. That curiosity and willingness to engage with different aspects of cinema, I think, is the mark and in some sense the obligation of an interesting critic, of which I consider you one. I always look forward to your take on a particular movie.

        100+ reviews in stock, huh? I’ve long wondered how you make time for everything, but hell, that’s crazy prolific. How many movies would you say you watch in a year? I keep a log on my blog, but I don’t write nearly as many reviews or as much about movies in general as I’d like, It takes me forever from initial idea until I find it to be postable.

        Keep up the great work, Franz. Even if I’m not always commenting, trust me, I’m reading!

      • Sometimes it surprises that it’s been already 4 years since I started this. You’re one of my earliest supporters and it makes me happy that you’re still here!!! I very much appreciate your support!

        Thanks for the kind words. I want to continue to improve so I try to read more bloggers and critics’ reviews when I get the extra time. I have seen your film logs and I wish that you’d post reviews more often. I find that they’re always enlightening and engaging so they’re definitely worth the wait. I can learn a lot from you!! (I think I already told you how much I look forward to your Best/Favorite of the Year lists.)

        As for the number of movies I watch per year… To be honest, I don’t really know. lol. I watch a movie pretty much every day after work and sometimes 2-5 each weekend. But for me, I like to write a review as soon as I finish watching the movie (even if I don’t feel like writing about it… at all, but sometimes I end up enjoying it once I get started) because if I wait, I find that I forget certain details I want to put on the review.

        Hmm, maybe I should do film log similar to yours… I love lists! lol *OCD* I see you’ve seen “A Cat in Paris” recently. I’ll be getting it from Netflix by tonight. It’s kind of a bummer that it’s only about an hour long but I hope it’s great.

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