When we meet Roy Andersson, he is in his early seventies and embarking on what he fully expects will be his final film as director, whose title he has swithered between calling About Infinity or About Endlessness or other options, because he believes art is about immortality, while life is always finite. His style is instantly recognisable and has proven popular with a loyal group of fans who find the sketchlike collections of observations on existence to be both hilarious and profound. But for all his claims to be delivering insights into the human condition, it is his own condition that begins to concern his fellow workers...
This is thanks to Roy's alcoholism, something he makes light of, half tries to hide and half doesn't, but as the production of what would become About Endlessness progresses, may serve to derail the project and leave it as an unfinished work. If you are coming to this documentary aware of his canon, you will know he did indeed get it completed, and it won awards for him and seemed a perfect capper on an extraordinary vision, so the outcome of this story is never really in doubt. On the other hand, in these edited highlights of its making, we can see Andersson visibly deteriorate physically as the pressure and simple old age take their toll.
Yet in interviews he remains surprisingly upbeat, chipper even, not what you would expect from a filmmaker who regularly took on the big questions like mortality and religious belief, or harrowing events like war or the Holocaust. On that latter, he admits he was not part of the Second World War, but feels tremendous guilt that humanity must, he reasons, suffer over our collective allowing such an unimaginable atrocity to occur, whether we were around back then or otherwise: some things are too big to ignore, seems to be the philosophy. It's true enough that when he tackles subjects like that, the humour flies out of the window.
However, it is that self-same humour that enables his films to be accessible, and why so many respond to them when they would never dream of reading a tome about World War II. This conundrum, of how such a cheery chappie can carry such a need to search the psyche of humanity to its grimmest depths, was not something that director Fred Scott really got to the bottom of; we get an impression of how friendly and grateful for the appreciation Andersson is, but not what presumably are some pretty powerful demons resting in his mind, psychologically speaking. Actually, to get an impression of those you have to watch the few films he directed, which is undoubtedly the best way to approach the man and his outlook.
This results in a documentary that is more addendum to the Roy Andersson story than the essentials, but doubtless those fans will want to see it regardless of any misgivings. For instance, we hear from one of his colleagues that his perfectionism has soured on this new film so that before, he would grow impatient and lose his temper once every three months, but now it is happening three times a day, but crucially we never see this occur, indeed if it had never been mentioned you would be oblivious. When he relents and goes to rehab, we see the troubled looks on the faces of the crew when he abandons the institute after a few days, but the only genuine difference is in his physical deterioration, personality-wise he is optimistic, despite deadlines to get the film finished sailing by. It is as if we are not getting the whole picture, just enough to intrigue us as to watch, or rewatch, Andersson's filmography, which is fine, and may be revealing in itself, yet perhaps not what you wanted from a documentary on a man who is plainly a genius, with all the problems that brings with it.