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It's a Wonderful Life 

IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE

In the opening scene of You, the Living, a man is woken up by a train barreling past his window. He briefly addresses the camera, and then the movie begins a new scene with a tattooed couple arguing on a park bench. Don't like that one either? Don't worry, there are many more vignettes on the way in director Roy Andersson's open-ended look at life.

Dozens of little stories play out in single-shot takes, as characters occasionally break out in song or play instruments to the film's soundtrack. Some stories are tied together (the quarreling couple end up at the same bar as a girl whose fantasy unspools later in the film), even though there's no real narrative here. Yet Andersson brings you into these characters' lives, even if it is for just a few fleeting minutes.

Several of these people show up from time to time, but mostly You, the Living features fragments of lives — the love, the hate, the happy, the sad. Many of the stories are funny (a guy fails miserably at the ol' pulling-the-tablecloth-off-a-set-table trick, destroying, among other things, a 200-year-old piece of china). Some are poignant (an old woman struggles to recall her childhood). Some are bizarre (a Nordic Dixieland group calls itself the Louisiana Brass Band).

If You, the Living feels somewhat standoffish, that's probably Andersson's intent. After all, he doesn't linger on any scenes or characters long enough to bring you into their world. But the movie's emotional distance makes you appreciate his love of cinema even more, especially when his camera follows people down hallways and through doorways or just lets brief scenes run, unmoving, in real time. It's all about making the best of our time here. "Tomorrow is another day," says more than one character. That's life, shrugs another. And in this stylish film, life is indeed a wonderful little thing.

mgallucci@clevescene.com

More by Michael Gallucci

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