AFF: A PIGEON SAT ON A BRANCH REFLECTING ON EXISTENCE [2014]

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SALTYLOGO6A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting on Existence poster image


This is perhaps the first movie where I read article upon article describing a director’s style for months before I was finally able to watch this latest effort at the Adelaide Film Festival. Having read so much about director Roy Andersson, I was fairly clued in as to what I was going to see. Despite this though, the movie failed to suck me in in the way I thought it would. It is certainly not a bad movie, and it is clear that the decisions made regarding the way the film is acted and shot were very deliberate. However, there was an energy missing, a spark to hook me into the experience. Perhaps having seen his previous two movies could have helped me, as this is the final film of a trilogy about being a human being.

Having read quite a bit about Andersson before seeing this film, I knew that after making his first feature film he spent twenty-five years making adverts. Those I have seen, at least some of them, and it is clear that during this time he developed the techniques that define this film. A fixed camera, with almost always a foreground, a middle-ground, and a background. Each shot is very deliberately placed for this effect to occur, and there is no doubt of its technical soundness as we often have events happening in the background that are of more interest than what is happening in the foreground. It is an interesting approach to film-making, and it would be interesting to see this technique used in a more traditional film. Here though, it is exaggerated, to the point where it can be easy to miss it.

This movie doesn’t have a plot. It is comprised of short vignettes, always with a hard cut to momentary blackness or the next scene. It very loosely follows the exploits of two men who are in the ‘entertainment business’; in reality, they are selling novelty items, like vampire teeth, with extra-long fangs! That is how dry the humour is, almost relentlessly so. Yet another aspect that adds to this film’s odd character is that the film visits these two characters in about half of the scenes we see. The rest feature random people, most of whom we never see again. In each scene, much like a good joke, something is exaggerated. The humour is again dry as wallpaper but there is no denying it is funny, but it won’t have you bursting out in laughter and slapping your knee. It is more subtle and will often illicit smiles and chuckling, even if as the film progresses some of these scenes become increasingly dark in nature – for example, in one scene a monkey seems to be hooked up to a source of electricity, which shocks it every few seconds. It is disturbing yet somehow funny, as directly contrasting the monkey is a woman in the background having an extremely inane phone conversation while these electric shocks are happening. It is confronting, but I’ll admit, I chuckled at the contrast and the absurdity of the situation. This is how most of the scenes play out, using contrast and absurd situations in a similar manner, and again these are all shot very purposefully, the camera never moving.

A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting on Existence movie image
To add to the dry humour is the understated acting. It is almost as if most of the characters are half dead, devoid of personality, which I am sure was the intention. Despite the fact Andersson uses mostly unknown actors, they do a good job of underacting, which successfully combines with the dry humour to make quite a funny film, even if as a story it makes no sense.

Given the title of the movie, I suppose we have to ask ourselves what Andersson is trying to say. As I haven’t seen the first two movies of the trilogy I can’t be certain. The opening scene of the film shows a man looking at a pigeon in a museum. A later scene alludes to this as the pigeon looking at the human, pondering on its existence. I suppose that is where the bizarre title comes from! This first scene is followed by the film’s title as we are told this is the final of the trilogy. This is then followed by a title-card – ‘Three meetings with death’. What follows is exactly that, all shot and acted in the way I described.

A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting on Existence movie image

Given this introduction to the movie and the situations that we see throughout, it seems that Andersson, in his distinctive way, has successfully portrayed many of the realities of existing, of being human. Events in different scenes range from death and anger, sadness, depression, love, old-fashioned hate… the emotional tone of the film certainly varies while many of the absurd events show how crazy life can be, and conversely, how banal it can be. It certainly goes far in creating this message, with some borderline inappropriate scenes, but it succeeds.

Whether this is a viewer’s cup of tea depends on their patience, and their willingness to follow a meaningless story to see an amusing examination of human existence.

3 and a Half Pops

https://player.vimeo.com/video/104770932