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Film Review: A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence

A-

Directed by

  • Roy Anderrson

Starring

  • Holger Andersson
  • Nils Westblom
  • Viktor Gyllenberg

Release Year

  • 2014

Rating

  • PG-13
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With a film that’s more a series of lusciously framed and often surreal vignettes than one concerned with any real kind of plot, it’s enticing to just chronicle these images one by one, to take stock and try to believe what was just seen.

Like, you see death by struggling to open a wine bottle, gone unnoticed by a cheery wife visible in the other room? Or you witness the life and times of two painfully awkward novelty salesmen trying to sell vampire teeth and laughing boxes? And what about the scene where Charles XII is flirting, all namby-pamby, in a present-day bar while his army marches by singing in the background?

Here’s the thing. When taking in Roy Andersson’s A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, and you simply must, never ask the film “why?” Ask, “Why the hell not?” This will free you up to feel for this truly special film and become immersed in the imaginative, diverse visual pleasures of a deadpan Swedish bricolage about life’s silliest, yet most meaningful, moments. For a film that starts with the clear promise that it will be about “being a human being,” not only does Andersson make good, but he provokes, tickles, and even mystifies you with the very notion of humanity.

Andersson digs deep in his individualistic and absurd way and burns his stunning images onto the brain. Everything counts for something here, whether it’s clear or not. Pigeon isn’t arbitrarily presenting a giggling baby; it’s hypothesizing about the smaller joys in life. And like life, this is a film that becomes more complicated, challenging, and rewarding as it progresses. It just keeps getting better. Andersson’s film runs the spectrum of human portraiture.

Through a series of pristinely structured, intensely deep long takes, Andersson sews together a series of loosely connected, bone-dry moments that reflect and comment on human nature. Imagine the absurdist wit of Monty Python with the formal tendencies of a Far Side comic, as Andersson stages two dozen long takes of hyper-realistic aesthetics and non-sequiturs.

We see the inside of a dance class, as young students dance and sweat, and an amorous instructor sexually, strangely caresses a younger man at the front of the class for all to see.

Three middle-aged children hastily argue over their dying mother while she lays in bed holding a bag of rare family jewels that she wants to bring to Heaven.

A recital hall filled with mentally challenged children unlocks a moment of stunning sympathy and clarity as a young girl recites a succinct and beautiful poem about pigeons and an existential crisis over money.

And yet, none of this recounting does justice to the film’s many splendors. The phrase “must-see” is so relevant here, as Andersson constructs the film with total commitment, total confidence in the odd subject matter, and allows for any reading to become a sort of high-minded “choose your own adventure.” The theme: life is ridiculous. On a purely cinematic and visual level, Pigeon is something remarkable, but amidst its cruel visions or touching little moments, it becomes the kind of movie that captures the wonderful absurdities of life. A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence may ask the smartest question about the mundane curiosities of life: When does it ever make sense? Roy Andersson seems certain that life doesn’t, and he’s made the loveliest, loopiest statement to that effect.

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