Interview with Roy Andersson, Studio 24
By Lara Andersson
Roy Andersson’s independent production studio, Studio 24, is nestled in the heart of Stockholm’s Östermalm neighborhood. The studio’s façade is unassuming, leading many passersby to overlook the space, or mistake it for another type of establishment. Recently, cardboard tombstones from a previous set design adorned one of the Studio’s front windows. “[At that time] several people knocked on our door and thought we were a funeral home,” explains office administrator Alba Lange. “People never really know what this place is.”
Roy Andersson. Photo © Studio 24
Roy Andersson, one of Sweden’s most celebrated directors, has enjoyed a long and varied career in the arts. Born in Gothenburg in 1943, Andersson attended the Swedish Film Institute’s Film School in Stockholm at the end of the 1960’s. His first feature length film, A Swedish Love Story, was met with critical acclaim and was an audience favorite, winning the 7th annual Guldbagge Award for Best Film in 1970. After releasing his second film, the dark drama Giliap, in 1975, Andersson took a feature film hiatus and produced many award-winning advertisement spots as well as two short films. It wasn’t until the year 2000 that he returned to the feature film format with the first installment of his Living Trilogy, Songs from the Second Floor, followed by You, The Living (2007) and A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (2014), which won the Golden Lion Award at the 71st Venice International Film Festival.
“I didn’t always want to be a filmmaker,” Andersson explains. After a day of shooting the finishing touches for a scene in his upcoming film, he drinks a small glass of red wine. We are sitting in the kitchen, on the second of three stories comprising Studio 24. The space, which used to be a telephone exchange center many years before Andersson acquired it in 1981, is a treasure trove of assorted knick-knacks; the shelves and walls are dotted with small statues, books, trophies and ornaments that hint at Andersson’s diverse intellectual interests. “When I was younger, I wanted to be an author, I wanted to be an artist.” He cites the Italian director Vittorio de Sica’s neorealist film, The Bicycle Thief as a major turning point. “I saw it when I was thirteen at a government sponsored film night for youths. I was amazed to see a movie about the poor, not about the heroes. I was also amazed at the adults responsible for organizing the film night for showing us this type of movie… [it was then] I decided I wanted to make movies.”
One can see how Andersson meditates on the plights of average men and women in the short, mostly self-contained tableaux of The Living Trilogy. Marked by long takes, static framing, dark comedy and the dead pan performances of his (mostly) amateur actors, Andersson’s stylistic universe gestures towards Samuel Beckett and Albert Camus – it is cruel, indifferent, absurd and, often times, hilarious.
How does Andersson arrive at such unique worlds? To create each scene, he first generates images with watercolor and pen. When he has gathered enough vignettes for a film – about forty or more – he hangs them up on one of the studio walls, story boarding the project at hand. The sketches are rough and sparse, but capture the tonality that we later experience in his films. I ask where he finds inspiration for each scene. “[These scenarios] are from life. They are from the books I’ve read, the art I’ve studied. They are me.”
Andersson’s total creative control and intentionality, from conception to execution, is one of the distinguishing factors of his artistry. He and his skilled team of set designers produce the distinctively subdued, gray and beige toned backdrops of each scene from scratch.
Using the tricks of tromp-l’oeil, they give rise to uncanny worlds in the backroom of Studio 24; each street, building and room looks familiar yet undeniably alien. The endpoint of such a controlled endeavor, Andersson explains, is the creation of spaces that come as close to abstraction as possible. As opposed to the “neorealism,” of his early directorial influences, Andersson aims for a sort of “hyperrealism.”
A big part of attaining this goal involves playing with the use of time in his films. In Pigeon (2014), for instance, Andersson inserts Sweden’s 18th Century King Charles XVII into a modern seaside bar. The result is a mild disorientation: we never fully know where we are or when. “I want to reach a type of timelessness,” Andersson says, “almost like a cartoon.”
Andersson approaches his work with sharp humor and playful simplicity, rendering his films, as he says, almost “cartoonish” in their purity. “We all think that when we are adults we are strong and not vulnerable. We have everything under control,” he says. “Under that façade, we are all vulnerable children. And we are thirsty and we are hungry and we want to be loved and we want to love.” By reflecting these truths in film format, Andersson hopes that audiences will take the time to think. “It is very hard to make movies these days that have a moral responsibility, because there is no time for it. There is no money for it. But I still try to create something that will survive and even point out how you can also spend your life with any meaning [here, he pauses and smiles]… you’re raising very complicated questions,” he laughs.
Andersson is now well under way in the production of his upcoming feature film, which will be his first after the conclusion of Living Trilogy. Like his previous projects, which have taken upwards of four years to complete, this one will take time and patience. “This film is separate, it has its own power,” he explains. “In a way, it’s a summary of what I’ve made before. The title is “On Endlessness,” in the sense that existence is endless. There are so many destinies. It is impossible to describe all of them. I pick out some to show how rich and varied it all is.” We can look forward to seeing it upon its release in 2019.