A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence. Firstly, what a title. Secondly, what does it mean? At a comedic snail’s pace, Gothenburg-born Swedish director Roy Andersson nudges you to answer that yourself.
Made famous by previous works such as Songs from the Second Floor and You, the Living (both of which I am already looking forward to catching up on) Andersson seems to have one of the driest senses of humour on earth – yet completely invisible to most of Earth’s dwellers. There is no complete story to his film, only a series of semi-chronological long-takes wherein an almost motionless yet perfectly positioned camera captures the feeling of situation.
Scenes follow one another like skits from The Fast Show. The camera never cutting during a scene and rarely moving at all apart from tiny pans forces you into the space – usually indoors – that the characters inhabit. Characters include: a pair of miserable novelty joke product salesman who ironically want to spread joy, an all too touchy feely dance teacher and everyone in a bar watching “Charles XII” march on Russia. We watch as they all work towards and fail to attain what they believe will make them happy when all they’re really doing is edging further towards acceptance of misery and death.
Contrasting these depressive yet hilarious (I can’t believe people actually bought vampire fangs from these two guys) scenes are several wherein we’re meant to see the true beauty of life. One of which, a scene where a bar owner and maid serves free shots to military serviceman at the cost of a kiss indicates the joy in trading with an alternate currency; the counterpart to this is the joke sellers who chase shop owners for money owed and fight a losing battle selling them in the first place which slowly drives a wedge between them.
“I’m glad to hear you’re doing well” is the film’s catchphrase and is repeated many times throughout. Is this an indication on our intrinsic need as modern humans only to share when things are on the up? Not at any point does a character say the line with any joy in their face, in fact, there’s hardly a drop of joy on any extra-white ghostly face in the whole film – more melancholic. What definitely can be said is the film doesn’t take itself seriously, sure, there are a few lines that are extremely deep, but even then, I felt Andersson was smirking writing them. The stubborn camera captures scenes with more lying beneath surface each time, cleverly drawing your eye to one spot or region of the frame and letting things change in the background then which keeps a seemingly still image extremely dynamic. Haneke controlled what you see at the beginning of Amour and the end of Hidden in a similar way – both of which seem similar in composition to Andersson’s latest.
This film affirms that humour comes in so many forms. I despise when people say something isn’t funny, heck, people go and see Adam Sandler’s movies so there must be something in them… maybe. Aronofsky and Iñárritu presented this film in America after it won the Golden Lion at Venice Film Festival and with its existentialist, cartoony odd-ball comedy that’s still perfectly composed I can see why.