EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a capsule review. The full review will be released once the film hits theatres.
A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, from Swedish auteur Roy Andersson, is the third in his trilogy about life as a human being (following Songs from the Second Floor and You, the Living). The film is constructed as a long string of loosely interconnected vignettes featuring some of the darkest comedy imaginable. The movie took home the Golden Lion award for Best Film at this year’s Venice Film Festival prior to making its North American debut at the Toronto International Film Festival, where the director was on hand to introduce his latest effort.
Pigeon opens on a “Three Meetings with Death.” The scenes are shot in single long takes, with the minimal cuts used primarily to take the film from one sketch into another. All shot at a distance, these wide shots leave Pigeon’s actors with room to move around within the scene and let moments slowly develop; notably, in one scene we watch a man leaves a long voicemail for someone who has just stood him up, while through the restaurant window next to him, we see a woman’s heart being broken at dinner, only in silence. The humor is often delivered in the driest of deadpan styles, often employing prolonged stark seriousness only to build to a punch line that cuts the tension like a knife.
Much of Pigeon centers on two ineffective novelty item salesmen, Jonathan (Holger Andersson) and Sam (Nisse Vestblom) trekking around Gothenberg attempting to peddle their wears. Juxtaposing these hapless men with the goofy items like fake vampire teeth and laughing bags that they attempt to sell, or hearing Jonathan insist, “We want to help people have fun,” in the saddest of tones is utterly hilarious within the context.
When Pigeon’s scene of the moment isn’t directly about Jonathan and Sam, it’s often about a character they’ve met, or an event they’re witnessing from another side of the room. It’s a neat trick that allows Roy Andersson to incorporate an array of characters to help fill his world without each scene becoming inconsequential as the movie progresses. The vignettes share tonal similarities, and reflect elements of the human condition in a way reminiscent of the work of Luis Buñuel, with elements both familiarly realistic and farcically surreal.
The comedy is thoughtful, and at times delightfully absurdist. Occasionally, it may offend your sensibilities, but Andersson’s intention feels less about simply finding laughs and more about discovering often-overlooked truths. The comedy may take patience to appreciate, but the laughs are come from very relatable concepts. Even in its most shocking moments, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence speaks to uncomfortable truths about the awkwardness of being alive.
A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence is a beautifully shot, artfully funny, and oddly poignant view of humanity from Roy Andersson.