A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence (★★★★ Empire Review)

PigeonSatOnABranchSquarePLOT One might also reflect on the impossibility of discerning existence of anything that might be called a ‘plot’ in this third collection of mordantly funny existential observations from Sweden’s answer to Chris Morris.

Few filmmakers, indeed few artists in any medium, have observed and portrayed the banal, everyday frailties and absurdities of human existence with the rapier wit and scalpel-sharp accuracy of Roy Andersson, who has been described as a “slapstick Ingmar Bergman” but might more accurately be aligned with Jacques Tati and our own Chris Morris. After a 25-year break from directing films (his early career included 1970’s Bergmanesque A Swedish Love Story), Andersson made a Malick-like comeback with Songs from the Second Floor (2000), a loose collection of observational sketches featuring ordinary people – typically overweight, and wearing white face powder and drab clothing, filmed in dreary tableaux – doing everyday things: making love; playing the tuba; trying to wrest a handbag full of valuables from a dying mother’s grasp. “It isn’t easy being human,” observes one pitiful character; Andersson’s oeuvre in a nutshell.

Andersson followed Songs from the Second Floor with You, the Living (2007), a similar but arguably superior collection of humanistic sketches, that could be seen as horrifically bleak or darkly hilarious, or both. Now, another seven years later, at the age of 72, Andersson completes his “trilogy about being a human being” with a film whose seemingly grandiloquent title is a neat summation of the writer-director’s own observational style, although it’s doubtful the pigeon shares Andersson’s achingly empathetic, neo-apocalyptic sense of gloom and despair at the fragility of human existence.

PigeonSatOnABranchWide

Like any challenging work by an important artist, A Pigeon… is not for everyone. There’s fun to be had watching, for example, the exploits of a pair of dolorous travelling salesman selling novelty items, the platoon of 18th century fusiliers who accompany Charles XII to a modern bar en route to the Great Northern War, or the passengers of a cruise ship contemplating the questionable taste of a dead man’s lunch. Towards the end of the film, and thus the trilogy, the film takes a turn for the dark (the scene with the monkey is indelible, and not in a good way), suggesting that for all Andersson’s humanistic empathy, his prognosis for the future of mankind is bleak.

VERDICT If Chris Morris had grown up in Sweden watching Jacques Tati and Ingmar Bergman films, he might be making films like this. Based on Andersson’s mordantly funny observations about the human condition, the pigeon – though perhaps not the monkey – has it pretty good. ★★★★

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