A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence Review
Roy Andersson is perhaps one of Sweden’s most imaginative contemporary film-makers, sometimes referred to as a ‘slapstick Ingmar Bergman’. Known for A Swedish Love Story, his commercial works as well as his shorts, he returned with Songs from the Second Floor in 2000 after a long absence from feature film. With A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence, Andersson delivers the last of his arresting ‘Living’ trilogy. Selected in the 2014 International Venice Film Festival, A Pigeon went on to win the Golden Lion for Best Film, and it is easy to agree that it happily deserves all of its accolades.
The film is made up of thirty-nine sketches, most of which revolve around a pair of flailing travelling salesmen, Sam and Jonathan (Nils Westblom and Holger Andersson). From their sales visits to their dreary accommodation or stopovers in bars, the two men encounter the surrealist or anachronistic, and situations which underlie the absurdity of the familiar and day-to-day. In their roles, Westblom and H. Andersson are grave, solemn, and confused. Their performance is thoroughly convincing, and evokes in the viewer a strong tenderness for their vulnerability.
A Pigeon is shot in a pale colour range, giving characters a sallowness and a distinct air of caricature. Everyone inhabiting Andersson’s world looks sad or depressed, and frighteningly lonely. Andersson also employs throughout his signature combination of static camera, wide compositions, and long shots, as a way of showcasing characters in their everyday environment.
The sketches themselves principally focus on humanity’s small and great ugliness, addressing themes such as war, poverty, colonialism, and boredom. The rare moments of optimism are short-lived, and inhabited by the ominous feeling that something is about to go terribly wrong. There is no wealth here either; each of the settings are as run-down and bleak as the situations the characters are in themselves.
It is unfortunate that A Pigeon has been marketed as a dark comedy. To an audience expecting regular laughs, the astute dreariness of the film may be easily off-putting, as A Pigeon is a challenging watch. In order to enjoy and understand its value, audiences need to be attentive, and ready to analyse. It is, however, well worth it: this is a truly excellent work, capturing moments of human experience – no matter how absurd or difficult - rarely seen on film.