I saw a really great movie the other day titled “You, The Living.” What was most impressive to me was the way in which it was filmed; except for one scene, entirely on sound stages. Though some of the scenes are surreal reenactments of characters’ dreams, more than half of the movie takes place in very ordinary settings, an elevator, a man sitting in traffic, a doctor coming in late to his office. Even though the majority of these scenes take place in ordinary settings, the filmmakers created extremely detailed and realistic sets for them. The cost and time need to construct the sets were supposedly part of the reason the movie took three years to film. So with all the trouble and delay involved in constructing sets that really don’t need to be constructed, it is questionable wether or not a viewer not let in would be able to tell that all of scenes are shot on sets, why did the filmmaker do it?
For me having all of the sets constructed in such a way made me constantly acknowledge the fact that what I am watching is a film, a scripted, rehearsed and carefully edited work. When we watch movies that claim to be based on a true story, or are so called “topic pics,” movies that deal with some real world event that are intended to inform just as much as they are to entertain. “You, The Living” is different, it is a movie that doesn’t forget that it is a movie, a kind of Metamovie. Watching the movie like this is in many ways freeing for the viewer. It allows both the filmmaker and the viewer to approach the movie not as a recreation of events that might have actually happened, but as a kind of work of art, an exploration of a theme through the media of film.
“You, The Living,” is in some ways like a Woody Allen movie. On the surface “You, The Living” uses dixie land jazz for the sound track just like Woody Allen. The characters also directly address the viewer, just like Woody Allen does in some of his movies. The movie is tragicomic, just like nearly all of Woody Allen’s Movies. But perhaps the biggest similarity between “You, The Living” and a Woody Allen Movie like, “Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona” is that both are created as a kind of essay. The beginning starts with the theme of the movie very clearly stated, “Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona” is, in the words of Cristina, “about why love is so hard to define.” In “You, The Living,” though a little more cryptic, the theme of the movie can be found in the opening quotation of a Goethe Poem. “”Be pleased then, you the living, in your delightfully warmed bed, before Lethe’s ice-cold wave will lick your escaping foot.” Lethe is a river in Hades whose water when drunk made the souls of the dead forget their life on earth. In other words, enjoy life while you have it.
After the opening quotation, what ensues in “You, The Living,” are 50 vignettes from topics so banal as a man failing to get on an elevator in time and then getting off it, to an school teacher who breaks down in front of her kindergarden because she and her husband had a fight (fight not pictured). The shift from themes that are recognizably appropriate for drama to themes that are so trivial that one wonders if they aren’t missing something upon first viewing, is effective in showing the full spectrum of everyday life, suggesting that from the memorable moments to the not so memorable moments, there is always something to, “be pleased” about.
The sets echo this idea. Though some of the sets are elaborate, some are extremely sparse and simple. Either way, time and effort was put in to the quality of all of the sets.
Just as no set was too trivial to be created for the film, the film suggests that so is no moment in our lives to trivial to ignore. Whether it be being caught in a traffic jam, riding an elevator or stealing someones wallet at a restaurant, paying for your meal with the money from inside and refusing the change.
“You, The Living” is definitely not for everyone, it is slow and lacks a plot. For that matter Woody Allen isn’t for everyone either. Someone recently told me that they, “don’t get Woody Allen,” that they can’t understand his world.” Though the style of “You, The Living” might be hard to get, to enjoy, what it is about is something that can be appreciated by anyone.