In Roy Anderssons’s painfully funny ‘Songs from the Second Floor‘ there are a few moments when the characters glance at the camera. It comes as a surprise, but not the kind demanding attention, not the kind saying ‘look i’m breaking the rules, i’m surprising you’. You could almost miss it. It’s a gaze of weakness, not strength… until now i’ve only known this kind of ‘surprise’ as an act of strength beyond naturalism, a summoning of courage by the one daring to stare at the spectators, but here it’s different. The first of these moments was so slight I thought I was imagining it, the frail man (who, earlier, had been almost sawed in half by an inept magician) struggling to his seat.
The next follows straight on from this, and seemed like the kind of resigned glance we throw at a TV. It made me wonder about the one before, so I went back, and it seemed likely the man was looking at a TV there too. I knew that face, i’ve walked into a restaurant feeling like that.
Tired eyes glad for an absorbing focus, something at last which won’t reflect attention or demand response. This is a guilty, exhausted, lost gaze, yearning for a break from pain, stress, humiliation – something I’ve rarely ever seen properly captured on film. I wonder about what it means for ‘us’ to be situated as this TV, for the characters to be looking to us for relief. What is it that we see at these moments? The men in question are old enough to remember life without TV. The year is 2000. Here we are.