The Swedish filmmaker Roy Andersson began his feature career in the early 1970s with distinctive but conventionally linear narratives. Interview clips from his early fame, included in “Being a Human Person,” a new documentary directed by Fred Scott, show a fresh-faced, sometimes glib fellow seemingly poised for industry success.
In the early ’80s, though, Andersson reconfigured his working method. He bought a townhouse in Stockholm and made it into a studio and a home. In this space he concocted anecdotal, surreal cinematic reflections on not just human absurdity but human suffering, rendering them in single-shot tableaus. This movie tracks the making of what he announced as his last feature, “About Endlessness,” in 2018.
The revelation of Andersson’s method, his painstaking use of trompe l’oeil both painterly and cinematic, is fascinating enough. But the chronicle takes an unexpected turn.
Working from home has its advantages, but also affords near-instant access to a wine bar next door, where Andersson, now in his late 70s, starts spending what his colleagues consider a concerning amount of time. These artisans of Northern Europe are polite and kind; as much as Andersson’s behavior disturbs them, the film never shows anyone raising their voice. An audio recording of a phone call Andersson makes after walking out of a rehab and having difficulty finding a taxi is intense, and a little scary.
“He’s not really a family person,” his own daughter observes. A producer notes, resigned, “He has no intention of stopping drinking.” A trip to Spain for a festival both strokes Andersson’s ego and recharges his batteries — he’s shown looking at the works of one of his heroes, Goya, at the Prado. By the movie’s end, he hasn’t so much pulled himself together as soldiered on — and changed his mind about closing his beloved home studio.
Being a Human Person
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes. In theaters.