Playing online at the M.V. Film Center are two films, “About Endlessness” and “Duty Free.” (The latter is also playing live at the Film Center.) “About Endlessness” is by Swedish director Roy Andersson. Don’t expect a conventional narrative from this remarkable film.
“About Endlessness” consists of a series of vignettes, often divided by blackouts. Some are connected, some are not. The film begins with a stunning and lovely scene of a couple embracing while they float above a misty river. From there it shifts to another couple sitting on a wooden bench overlooking a demolished city. The woman says, “It’s September already.” As is the case here, the people in “About Endlessness” appear routinely ordinary. A woman’s voice often introduces what the viewer then sees.
Cut to the next scene framed of a man coming up an urban street stairway carrying a load of groceries he’ll use to make his wife dinner. He addresses another man who walks past him without speaking. “It’s been a long time,” the man with groceries says. “I’d hurt him once.” From there the camera moves to a man in a dining room reading a newspaper. A waiter offers for his approval a taste from a bottle of wine. After the diner accepts it, the waiter pours until it spills onto the table, and he hurriedly wipes it up. As with a few of the others, this scene seems darkly comic. So it goes.
From there the camera moves to a woman, identified as a communications manager, looking out a window at buildings. Later a man, whom the viewer has seen earlier, is shown dragging a large cross up a street. The people surrounding him whip and kick him cruelly. As is the case with so many of these vignettes, there is a sense of melancholy and absurdity.
The narrator explains a scene in a railway station where a woman has a problem with her shoe. Shoeless and with a baby carriage, she walks away in what may again appear to be darkly comic. Later, the camera shows another loosely connected scene of a man tying his daughter’s shoe in a hard rain.
There are also historically significant vignettes of a defeated army trudging toward a prisoner-of-war camp. “I saw a man who tried to conquer the world and failed,” says the narrator. Images follow of a Hitler-like actor and other Nazis, as bombs rumble overhead and debris drops down into the room they’re in. The film usually depicts its images as gray and colorless.
“About Endlessness” offers the viewer a heartfelt series of sad scenes, which add up to a statement about the nature of existence. This brilliant and unusual film will offer the viewer a disturbing but profound experience.
What happens when, after 40 years, a person loses their job? That’s what this documentary, playing both online and at the Film Center, describes. Rebecca Danigelis, age 75 and an immigrant, worked at a Boston hotel until she was fired, probably because of her age. “I felt tossed away,” she says, but she doesn’t stay discouraged for long. Her son, Sian-Pierre Regis, uses his career as a TV journalist to make a film describing how he supports his mother and helps her fulfill the bucket list she never had time for while working.
“Duty Free” begins by illustrating the work Rebecca has done successfully for so many years managing the housekeeping staff at the hotel. After her firing, one of her worrisome responsibilities remains her schizophrenic son Gabriel. Meanwhile her younger son, Sian-Pierre, raises $60,000 on a Kickstarter fund to make this film about his mother. Regis supports his mother’s efforts to find another job, and encourages her to pursue the bucket list she couldn’t when working long hours. That list includes learning how to hip-hop dance. Another goal is a trip to Detroit, where she first landed after her life growing up in Liverpool, and she is surprised to find how much the city has deteriorated.
Along the way, the viewer learns about Rebecca’s life. After her first marriage and divorce, she suffers from breast cancer and, weighing 65 pounds, sends her daughter Joanne to live with relatives in England. She has her two sons in a second marriage, but learning that her husband has another family, becomes a single mother, raising her sons on her own.
One of the first items on her bucket list is the chance to milk a cow. The process has been mechanized, but she still manages the milking. Another goal for her is to visit her daughter in London. The visit illustrates the importance of family to her. While there, she visits the grave of Elsie, the relative who raised her after her mother became ill and died. She was unable to attend Elsie’s funeral, an example of the sacrifices she had to make because of her demanding job. She also has dinner with her brother Lenny, and bakes a cake with Layla, Joanne’s daughter.
Throughout the film there are examples of Rebecca’s attempts to find a job and the ageism she experiences. Like many people her age, she needs the income from work. In her case, she has cashed in her 401(k) to pay for her son Sian-Pierre’s college. She finally gets part-time work at a hotel.
The last item on her bucket list is skydiving in Hawaii, and it is a pleasure to watch her fly. She concludes that the world is much bigger than she has imagined, and it is time for her to take one day at a time.
“Duty Free” provides viewers with a look at a life that is positive in many ways. It describes the relationship between a mother and her son and the activities they pursue together. Avoiding sentimentality, it illustrates for viewers the ways an elderly person can continue to pursue a meaningful life.
Information and tickets for “About Endlessness” and “Duty Free” are available at mvfilmsociety.com.