A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence

By: Mark Barber

Swedish auteur Roy Andersson completes his so-called “living trilogy” with the sombre, contemplative A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, a masterful blend of dour themes and dark humour.

Andersson’s Pigeon resists a coherent synopsis.  The film is told through multiple intertwining stories.  At the centre of these stories is a pair of travelling novelty salespeople–Jonathan (Holger Andersson) and Sam (Nils Westblom), both of whom share the same reflective deadpan delivery.  To characterize the film in one scene, in one particularly odd moment, the two happen on the intrusion of an 18th century army in a modern day tavern.

All the stories are thematically bound by Andersson’s sweeping, ambitious philosophical journey into questions of life and death.  Yet despite the ambition, Andersson’s esoteric style occasionally undermines the film’s clarity.  Indeed, Andersson works with a broad canvas here, covering the immediacy of death, colonialist cruelty, and the war-mongering of the elites.

Aesthetically, Pigeon has a painterly quality: frames are fixed and the depth is often layered, allowing the viewer to see multiple events take place simultaneously.  The movements of the actors themselves are slow and ponderous, reinforcing the stillness of painting.

Pigeon is a testament to Andersson’s unique stylistic and thematic concerns, and despite its overwhelming nature will offer a compelling and insightful journey.

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