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Sweden 2014
Directed by
Roy Andersson
100 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence, A

Synopsis: Two depressed salesmen, Jonathan (Holger Andersson) and Sam (Nisse Vestblom), visit the city of Gothenberg with a suitcase of samples of novelty items. Well, three to be precise - vampire teeth with “extra long” fangs, laughing bags, and their newest item (in which they have a lot of faith), a latex mask of Uncle One-Tooth. 

 A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence is the final instalment of a trilogy whose previous chapters were Songs From the Second Floor (2000) and You, The Living (2008). If you’ve seen either or both of those films then you know what to expect here.  If you haven't, imagine Ingmar Bergman directing from a script by Gary Larson with Giorgio De Chirico as DOP, or in other words, a film about the routine absurdities of existence framed in mordantly deadpan vignettes and depicted with exquisite detachment.

In the opening titles director Roy Andersson claims that the films are about “what it means to be a human being” but that is a rather much of an exaggeration. There is much more to the human condition than we see in these films but they do capture the seemingly deadening effects of Northern European climes on the human psyche. Andersson’s films are populated by drab people who listlessly inhabit a colourless man-made world in which nothing happens, or if it does, with disheartening consequences.

Compared to the previous films, there is a bit more structure and narrative continuity to Pigeon.  As Jonathan and Sam drag their junk around from possible customer to customer, none of whom are interested, their path crosses that of other characters including the patrons of “Limping Lotta’s Bar” and the advanced guard of Charles XII's march on Moscow in the early 18th century.

Don’t ask....Pigeon has little in common with the conventional film narrative and Andersson’s real intent, as it was for the other two films, is embodied by the surreally hypostatized world he creates rather than anything that specifically happens within it (scenes involving colonialists herding chained African slaves into a copper tumbrel decorated with trumpet horn-like shapes that then commences to rotate, and the Charles XII material, are presumably comments on Swedish history but they are the exception rather than the rule).  Each meticulously composed vignette is shot from mid-range using a fixed, centralized camera with characters carefully framed by doors and walls and positioned like figures in an architectural model.  These often do little but stare wordlessly out of or into a window at some banal activity or repeat phrases such as “I’m happy to hear you’re doing fine” down a telephone.  A consistent colour scheme of dun browns, cream whites and drab greens add to the effect of a limboic other-worldliness.

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence is black comedy at its most sardonic.  If that’s your style you won’t want to miss it, but if your an Andersson first-timer don’t expect anything in the way of plot or action.




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