Combustible Celluloid
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With: Holger Andersson, Nils Westblom, Charlotta Larsson, Viktor Gyllenberg, Lotti Törnros, Jonas Gerholm, Ola Stensson, Oscar Salomonsson, Roger Olsen Likvern
Written by: Roy Andersson
Directed by: Roy Andersson
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief sexuality and some disturbing images
Language: Swedish, with English subtitles
Running Time: 101
Date: 09/25/2015

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (2015)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Wednesday Again

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Roy Andersson's A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence has been officially submitted for consideration for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, but unlike most of the boring titles that award brings us, this one is a masterpiece.

Andersson has announced that it's the third in a trilogy, begun with Songs from the Second Floor (2002) and You, the Living (2007). All three films have a consistent, instantly recognizable style, recalling Buster Keaton, Jacques Tati, Luis Bunuel, David Lynch, Terry Gilliam, and others. He utilizes only static, deep-focus shots; the actors are in tableau with very little motion.

In his new movie, there is only one reverse angle. The actors, for the most part, look like unemployed sad clowns. The setting could be reality, but in many cases, is probably not. The tone is dreary and deadpan, and by turns funny, sad, lovely, and meditative. But, in completing his trilogy, Andersson ends Pigeon with a new kind of shocking depth. It's really unlike anything else you've seen lately.

There are no characters, as such, but the two most frequently occurring are a couple of traveling salesman who sell novelties. With as little enthusiasm as possible they sleepily recite their sales pitch, demonstrating the best-seller (vampire teeth), the classic (the bag-o-laughs), and the new item (a rubber mask called "Uncle One-Tooth"). Needless to say, business is not booming.

Other scenes are mirrored throughout the film, such as phone calls in which we only see one end of the conversation, the speaker always saying, "I'm glad that you're doing fine." In a bizarre sequence, antique soldiers and a king stop in a cafe on their way to, and back from, battle. But, sprinkled throughout, we get lovely scenes of a mother tickling her baby's toes, two lovers sharing a cigarette at a windowsill, and two more lovers on the beach with their dog.

There's more, of course, but suddenly, just before the final reel, Andersson gives us a title card, "Homo Sapiens," and in this sequence is a disquieting segment that involves slaves (and includes the aforementioned only reverse shot). The final scene — set at a bus stop in front of a bicycle shop — is one that gives us something simple, yet profound, to think about.

Note: The Roxie Cinema in San Francisco is opening the movie September 25, 2015.

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