A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence


Reviewed by: Donald Munro

A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence
"Often highly amusing and thought provoking... always gorgeous to look at."

A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence is the third part of a loose trilogy by Roy Andersson, the first two parts being Songs From The Second Floor and You, The Living. The films explore different aspects of life and human existence. A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence examines the way in which the mundane and repetitious make us blind to important aspects of life: relationships; comedy; cruelty. The way that Andersson achieves this is by creating a hyper-muted, ultra-bland version of Gothenburg as a backdrop for a series of vignettes. He then populates the film with seemingly two dimensional recurring characters who are only tangentially related to each other. Rather than having a clear narrative the film is held together by colour scheme, repetition of dialogue, situations and settings. By abandoning conventional story elements and exaggerating the mundane and tedious, Andersson is able to highlight the humanity of his characters and the strangeness of their lives.

Each vignette is staged very much like a painting or a photograph. The camera remains static, there are only a few moving parts. Their construction is angular. Shot with a long depth of field, corners, straight lines and plane walls in drab repetitions give the film a strange cohesiveness. At times it is a little reminiscent of Gursky. There is an unexpected beauty in its use of unappealing colours. Hospital green, council office green, stairwell green, insipid yellow and uninspiring shades of brown become a striking backdrop for the characters.

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The characters themselves seem blinded to each other by the dullness and repetitiveness of their environment. They are locked in a bubble of familiarity that prevents them from seeing joy and pain in others. There is often a touch of the crepuscular about them, something almost zombie like in their appearance. In a way they don't seem to realise that they are alive, that they are vibrant beings. They remain untroubled by surrealist elements introduced in the film such as the fateful march of Charles XII of Sweden (Viktor Gyllenberg) on Russia passing a generic working men's cafe.

The two most prominent characters in the film are an odd couple of travelling salesmen, Jonathan (Holger Andersson) and Sam (Nils Westblom). Their only purpose in life seems to be the wholesaling of novelty items to joke shops. They are played with skillful deadpan humour and have an understated quirkiness that would make them prime candidates as extras in a David Lynch film. Their line in fake horror, vampire teeth and creepy uncle one tooth masks normalises cruelty within the film.

If A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence has a flaw, it is that its portrayal of the monotonous and receptive goes on a little too long. It starts to become a little tedious. The revelatory moment when one of the salesmen sees beyond his version of ordinary comes just a little too late. That said, the film is often highly amusing and thought provoking, and is always gorgeous to look at.

Reviewed on: 09 Mar 2015
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Two travelling salesmen undertake a magical mystery tour of suffering, indulgence and melancholy as they attempt to sell novelty items to strangers and bring a little cheer into their lives.
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Director: Roy Andersson

Starring: Holger Andersson, Nils Westblom, Charlotta Larsson

Year: 2014

Runtime: 101 minutes

Country: Sweden, Norway, France, Germany

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