World cinema may have no better builder of delightful scenes than Roy Andersson, the deadpan Swedish existentialist. Each shot in an Andersson film is part diorama, part theatrical performance, part moviemaking the way Thomas Edison did it: Build a set, plant a camera, and stage highly orchestrated comedy and tragedy.
In his last days Hitchcock said that Spielberg was the first director who doesn't see the proscenium arch -- a compliment but also a dig at the young buck's lack of refinement. Watching an Andersson picture, you might feel that the director exists outside most cinematic traditions, that he's responding to some familiar touchstones -- Beckett and Kafka and silent-film comedy -- but also to parades and to gallery spaces, to wax museums and projected slideshows, to those pages in kids' activity books where you study one image and try to find the thing that's wrong.
An Andersson shot is an Andersson scene: Typically, he peers at some room from a spot in the corner, the settings richly, amusingly drab and populated with ashen-faced schlubs who move so little they could be Duane Hanson sculptures. Then life unfolds, or Andersson's winding-down-watch version of it, each moment sad and silly and taking as long as it takes, with surprises and complicating elements emerging from windows and closets: Two salesmen, peddling vampire teeth and other novelties, make a slow, doomed pitch to a polite man at a desk -- with a woman entering the office to be spooked just after Schlub B has donned a rubber fright mask. Rarely has the contemplation of life's potential meaninglessness been so delightful.