A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (2015, Roy Andersson)

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (and breath) is the final instalment in a ‘trilogy about being a human being.’ Anyone familiar with Roy Andersson’s two earlier films, Songs From the Second Floor (2000) and You, The Living (2007), will already know what to expect. For everyone else, A Pigeon… is quite unlike anything you will have ever seen before.

The opening scene has a portly man observing stuffed birds in glass cases at a museum – he stares at them gormlessly before trudging to the next glass case. It stands as a concise summation of what Andersson has crafted: a museum about the human condition. A series of self-contained vignettes in which the viewer observes their curiosities before moving on to the next.

There is no plot to speak of. The closest Andersson provides is that of two travelling salesmen who ‘Just want to help people have fun,’ according to Jonathan (Holger Andersson). They sell vampire teeth, a laughing bag that always seems to go off at cruelly inappropriate moments and an unsettling mask they call Uncle One-Tooth. They harass customers to pay them overdue money and are in turn harassed by their employers for money they owe on the items.

Each sketch is shot with a static camera at mid-shot using deep focus photography. Andersson positions the camera in a way that encourages the eye to roam its entire frame like a sprawling canvas painting or a Jacques Tati film.

The scattershot nature of it all inevitably yields some stronger scenes and others that feel like unused clippings cut in the editing room during production of the first two films in the trilogy, thrown back in to pad out a film that would have benefited from a little slimming down.

But it is tough to argue with the moments in which Andersson gets it spot on, such as in a quiet bar that seems to be suspended in time despite its present day fittings. The patrons sit listlessly in silence until the the clopping sound of horses pique their attention. It turns out King Charles XII is on his way to fight the Russians but desires a glass of water first. An endless supply of men and horses march rhythmically in the background as the king and his men interact with the people in the bar. Nobody seems too nonplussed by the whole scenario – that reaction is reserved for the viewer.

A Pigeon… is a mighty tough sell because scenes such as the one described really fail to be done justice in a brief description. Like life itself, Roy Andersson’s latest film is absurd, poignant, hilarious, melancholy, incomprehensible and worth sticking with. (7)

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