The Most Bizarre Film About AIDS Ever Made

   Were Hollywood to tackle the origins of AIDS, it is unlikely that as frivolous a title as Something Happened would be bestowed upon the resulting film. Similarly, it would be unthinkable that the opening scene of the movie would be accompanied by spritely, joyous woodwind. Even less conceivable would be for the film to point accusatory fingers at the American military as the creators of the disease. Roy Andersson and his 1987 Swedish short, however, does each of these things.

   An eccentric movie, Something Has Happened falls tonally somewhere between the wild excesses of Werner Herzog and Mark Lewis' Cane Toads: An Unnatural History. Not quite a docudrama, and certainly too wryly far-fetched to be considered plausible non-fiction of any kind, it is not at all surprising that the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare (whom had initially asked Andersson to write and direct an educative film for Swedish schools) pulled out of the project.

   Tonally, and factually, Andersson's short is as far removed from an non-fiction feature as is imaginable. The film takes the form of a series of (thematically) interlinked vignettes, each consisting of long, static camera shots with little in the way of kinesis. A morbid, zombie-like quality grips the film, its performers and, ultimately, the perplexed audience who will, surely, find themselves rendered hypnotised by the insanity unfolding onscreen.

   Darkly comic - opposite to the po-faced nature most individuals would approach the serious subject matter with - there's an underlying sarcasm to the presentation that is so dry as to be almost undetectable. The humour often feels like an itch of a phantom limb.

   Whilst, in moving scenes, one man narrates how he has caught the AIDs virus, and procrastinates his new life, this sits in polemic opposition to much of the content. A racist scientist, with physical movements which would not be out of place in some of Twin Peaks' wackiest scenarios, explains how monkeys may have spread AIDS to "Negroes" - he is seen to be a buffoon and, as such, Andersson seems to suggest that the accepted notion of AIDs' genesis is a false one. This is where the film becomes troublesome. A later scene, using East German propaganda as it's source, suggests that the American military created the virus - with no real evidence to back up these claims, its a remarkable, possibly evil, piece of conjecture.

   Although Something Has Happened has, quite rightly, been discredited as a conspiracy theory it would be hard to entirely discredit the film as a piece of art. A true one of a kind movie, Andersson's short breaks so many tonal and formal assumptions over the relatively short running time of twenty four minutes, it is frankly astounding. Yet, whether this grim, gruesome yet funny film can transcend its faults (in the same way in which many will marvel at the technical achievements of D.W. Griffiths' Birth of a Nation whilst simultaneously decrying its racism) is entirely up to the viewer.


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