Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, A (2014)

It has its great moments, but Andersson’s ‘Living’ trilogy closes on a lacklustre and disappointing note.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Dir. Roy Andersson
2014 | Sweden | Drama/Comedy | 101 mins | 1.78:1 | Swedish
NC16 (passed clean) for brief sexuality and some disturbing images

Cast: Holger Andersson, Nils Westblom, Viktor Gyllenberg
Plot: Sam and Jonathan, a pair of hapless novelty salesman, embark on a tour of the human condition in reality and fantasy that unfold in a series of absurdist episodes.
Awards: Won Golden Lion (Venice)
International Sales: Coproduction Office

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Existence
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex – Vignettes
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse

Viewed: The Projector – Swedish Film Festival
First Published: 20 Mar 2017
Spoilers: No

Unashamedly proclaiming in the opening titles to be the last film in his trilogy about being a human being, writer-director Roy Andersson’s Venice Golden Lion winner could not have ended it on a more disappointing note. 

It’s an overrated film, and I think some will agree with me that there’s simply no comparison to his more engaging and powerful earlier two films—Songs from the Second Floor (2000) and You, the Living (2007). 

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence starts off promisingly with three brief scenes about death, and then goes into the familiar Andersson modus operandi with one vignette after another. 

Everything is well, and the first half-hour or so sees the filmmaker in fine form. After that, the film loses some kind of momentum and struggles to sustain. It was hard to pinpoint why it didn’t work while seeing it. 

But after some reflection, here’s my take: Instead of a free-flowing, plotless film with a myriad of characters that appear, disappear and recur—a style that marked the other two pictures, we get two main characters (they are salesmen selling party items like vampire fangs and scary masks) whom we largely follow through the film. 

This, I think, is the movie’s fatal flaw. The two leads appear too many times, for far too long, often enacting their same old marketing routine.  Even a break from the monotony of their routine sees them in mundane, defeatist scenarios. 

This affects the pacing and interest in wanting to engage with the film.  Soon, one might find the film insipid and lacklustre even if it has some great moments of fantasy and nightmare. 

One outstanding sequence, though it overstays its welcome, sees endless cavalry and foot soldiers (from another time) marching across the glass windows of a casual retro-modern bar.  A high-ranking officer pops in on his horse, chases women out, before the General comes in for a glass of water. 

If you compare this sequence with a similarly shot one in Songs from the Second Floor—an out-of-luck business owner explains to his stakeholder why they are standing in a badly-burnt office with loads of soot and blackened furniture, while outside (as we can see through the glass windows) a horde of zombie-like office workers go on a strike, causing a massive traffic jam—you can see that the latter is a much more powerful and infinitely hilarious scene.

Pigeon should be a note of curiosity for those into Andersson’s oeuvre, but it ultimately feels like a glass half-empty rather than half-full.

Grade: C+




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