Songs From The Second Floor

I never knew there were quite so many films out there without plots, and how highly regarded some of them were. I’d heard of Bunuel’s surrealist so-called ‘masterpieces’, though I’m not a fan of them myself, and given their notoriety it was no surprise to find them on the List, but this cine-poem, based on the works of Peruvian poet Cesar Vallejo and directed by Swede Roy Andersson, is a film of which I’ve never heard, and finding it voted the 213th greatest film of all time by Empire readers came as something of a surprise.

Opening on an overweight businessman addressing a pair of feet with a hacking cough inside the iridescent electric blue light of a tanning bed, we are taken on a journey encountering opera-singing commuters, an endless, near-stationery traffic jam, crucifix salesmen, a moving building and a platoon of marching office drones casting telephone receivers like fishing lines.
The focal point is an obese fellow called Kalle (Lars Nordh). His oldest son is in the hospital, having gone insane from writing poetry, and Kalle cannot visit him without descending into a raving torrent against his offspring. Kalle has other problems – he burns down his business in an attempt to claim the insurance – and is being stalked by a man who killed himself, and still has the blood and cuts on his wrists to prove it. 

I’m not a fan of this kind of film. To me, the one essential ingredient required for a film is a plot, preferably a coherent and well-paced one, but here it’s more a collection of nonsensical scenes that happen to feature either Kalle, someone he knows or someone random. I understand that the purpose of such films is not to tell a story or to entertain, but to evoke a mood, and here I mainly felt despair and sadness. None of the characters are living anything close to a happy existence, many are overweight and all of them are either a sickly grey or deathly white in colour, covered in dust or ash, and becoming increasingly more pallid as the film progresses. The rooms and buildings are similarly shaded, with only the occasionally shock of colour – one man’s bright ginger hair or the aforementioned tanning bed light.

There were some scenes that were genuinely unpleasant to watch – a young girl, perhaps 8 years old, is blindfolded and led before a procession of dignitaries and up to a cliff, where she is left to wander blindly until she falls to her death, and the scream, thud and distant sobbing and crying were almost enough to make me turn the film off. Elsewhere, there was some uncomfortable humour in a man celebrating his 100th birthday by urinating in front of the men who have come to praise him, and by offering a Nazi salute and sending his best to Goerring, having become so far advanced in years he no longer sees the need to hide such tendencies.

So what does it all mean? Well, I’m sorry, but I haven’t a clue. Why are all the corpses walking around and following Kalle? Why was he stroking a golf club whilst a friend of his stared out a hotel window, naked from the waist down? And where was everyone heading at the end, with the endless row of vacant airport check-in desks awaiting the potential passengers and their skyscraping luggage trolleys? No idea, don’t care, didn’t enjoy it.

Choose life 3/10