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

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
Directed by: Roy Andersson.
Written by: Roy Andersson.
Starring: Holger Andersson (Jonathan), Nils Westblom (Sam), Viktor Gyllenberg (Karl XII), Lotti Törnros (Flamenco Teacher), Jonas Gerholm (Lonesome Lieutnant), Ola Stensson (Captain / Barber), Oscar Salomonsson (Dancer), Roger Olsen Likvern (Caretaker), Mats Ryden (Man at the busstop), Göran Holm (Bargäst).

Swedish director Roy Andersson has made a career out of making one, very specific kind of film – the type that critics like to bring out other directors to try and explain – most often, in Andersson’s case, that he’s like “Jacques Tati meets Ingmar Bergman” (some will say Buster Keaton inside of Tati, and others – who don’t know what the hell they’re talking about will say Chaplin – although Bergman usually stays, probably because of the whole Swedish thing). It’s not a bad comparison – as Andersson’s films do call filmmakers like those to mind. The films are often hilarious – in a deadpan way, like Tati or Keaton – but also delve into some very serious subject matter. They are made up of individual scenes – often completely unconnected to the rest of the movie (although, he will come back to certain characters) – and his camera doesn’t move, and each scene is one shot. His films offer little vignettes of life, death, comedy, tragedy, etc. His breakthrough film was Songs from the Second Floor (2000), and it took him seven years to follow that up with You, the Living, and another seven before he made his latest A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence. Andersson, I think, is rather lucky that it takes so long between films. There is a limited as to what one can do with films like these – and Andersson has reached that limit. But the long gaps in between mean he is greeted with a little more enthusiasm than if, say, he released these three films in three straight years.

There is nothing wrong with A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (that title, by the way, has to be a joke, right – as if Andersson decided to name his film as if he had made the most pretentious art film in history). The film works in its individual scenes – and there are a few near the end when Andersson completely forgoes the comedy to create some of the more disturbing, and haunting, images you will likely see in a theater this year that I’m still trying to wrap my head around (should they be there? Is Andersson saying anything here, or doing it for shock value? I’m honestly not sure).

For the most part, I enjoyed the purely stand alone scenes best – like a trio at the beginning about three unrelated deaths, that are tragic and hilarious in equal measure, or the flashback of an old man to his war days in the same bar which turns into a musical number. Andersson comes back – repeatedly – to a two salesman, trying to sell the sadness novelty joke items imaginable – and it’s probably too often, as he establishes that they are pathetic, and doesn’t do much else with them.
 
But there is, as I said, a limited to how well a film like this can ever work – and personally, I think there is a law of diminishing returns at work here. I remember watching Songs from the Second Floor around the time it came out on DVD – and being amazed by it. I was in college at the time, and had never seen anything quite like it. But with this film, I feel like I have seen it before – and that Andersson is simply repeating himself. The film works – I had fun for the most part, and the film certainly does offer a memorable experience, something that cannot be said about a lot of films. Still, the thrill of seeing something new is gone with Andersson – and one hopes that he tries something different next time out.

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