I should have known better. Empire magazine gave this 4-stars, the Telegraph gave it 5-stars, and Dr Kermode also loved it. The New York Times declines to give ratings, but reading between the lines on all of these reviews made me think I was going to see something intriguingly non-linear yet bleak, incisive and revelatory. The opening paragraph of the Empire review sold me:
Few filmmakers have illuminated the absurdities of human existence with such mordant wit and scalpel-sharp accuracy as Roy Andersson.
I hate writing negative reviews, but this film is pretentious wank of the first order. It mistakes calm and stillness for profundity at every turn, and its absurd conjunctions fail both at being funny and at making any kind of point. The scene above is an absurdist construction where Charles XII stops at a local pub in modern times on his way to be defeated by the Russians. Maybe that has some kind of regional meaning that’s lost in cultural translation, but this scene was just completely tedious.
I found it very difficult to engage in any substantial way with this film. A couple of the incidents were vaguely amusing but I don’t think I ever actually laughed. As each successive vignette passed in front of me, it became more and more apparent that the reason that the dialogue is scant in the film and the action is based on extreme minutiae is that it has nothing to say. I think this is a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes, where some critics who’ve been saturated with explosions and semi-pornography told in depressingly familiar story tropes have latched onto this unusual work in much the same way as a drowning man grabs for any lifeline, no matter how tenuous.
This was a complete waste of my time and money, and ranks with the worst films I’ve ever seen.