A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence | Film | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence

Roy Andersson's film is a slow, dreamlike tour through a series of loosely connected and often absurd set pieces

click to enlarge There is no joy in selling jokes
There is no joy in selling jokes

As even its obtuse title suggests, Swedish writer-director Roy Andersson's A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence is not for everyone. It is indeed a reflection on existence — and does feature a pigeon on a branch — but it's a slow, dreamlike tour through a series of loosely connected set pieces. There's not much plot (though there is a dance number and a beer-drinking song); instead, Andersson offers recurring motifs and dialogue, themselves stretched into absurdity. (The oft-spoken "I'm happy to hear you're doing fine" is repeated twice in each instance.) And two dour novelty salesmen re-appear, perpetually failing to sell their three items: vampire teeth ("extra long"), a laugh bag and an "Uncle One-Tooth" mask.

The tableaux, each shot from a distance with a static camera and rendered in washed-out tones, are uniformly deep spaces, in which one or two characters act while static background figures look on. It creates a mirror of sorts, where we dispassionately watch others watching, even when the action is bizarre. (King Charles XII stops by a contemporary café while en route to battling the Russians.) If you're inclined toward it, there is a ribbon of dark humor that runs through Pigeon, but so too do Andersson's themes of death, loneliness and the drip-drip ennui of our disconnected lives.

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