Saturday, June 6, 2015

Review: A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence

Image courtesy of Magnolia Pictures. 
There's no easy way to describe the films of Sweden's Roy Andersson, who displays elements of Luis Bunuel, a spot of Jacques Tati and a deadpan sensibility that would make Aki Kaurismaki proud. His latest, the Venice Film Festival winner "A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence," is the apparent third part of a thematic trilogy on what's it's like to be a human being that previously included "Songs from the Second Floor" and "You, the Living."

To call Andersson's films episodic does not quite capture the essence of them. There's rarely any plot thread that dominates an Andersson film, but characters often wander in and out of the frame, engaging in scenes with each other and, in the process, revealing quite a bit about the foibles, humiliations, humanity and absurdity involved in life on this planet.

His latest opens with three sequences about death. And you know you're watching an Andersson film because each one of them is hilarious, especially the second scene in which three siblings try to pry the handbag out of their dying mother's hands at the hospital. Just trust me on that one.

The characters whom we see most in the picture are a pair of traveling salesmen who schlep around with a suitcase full of novelty items that they claim will assist people in "having a good time." The three items they most often advertise are a pair of vampire teeth with "long fangs," a laughing bag that they insist will be a hit at the office or a creepy rubber mask known as "Uncle One Tooth."

In other corners of the story, we observe a dance teacher instructing her class and getting a little too touchy feely with a handsome student. Or, there's the cafe where an elderly man has been drinking shots every day since World War II. We even get a flashback to 1943. And, perhaps most absurdly, there is a man known as the "king," who rides through the town with his regiment, trotting his horse through the front doors of its cafes and ordering people around.

"Pigeon" is funny, but also humanist. All of the characters are isolated in some sense or another and each of them has a difficult time getting the others to understand their point of view. Personally, my favorite Andersson film is his first, the extremely bizarre and visually dazzling "Songs from the Second Floor." There are numerous scenes in "Pigeon" that I liked quite a bit - especially those death sequences - but, at times, I felt that the picture was one I admired more than loved.

Don't get me wrong. "Pigeon" is a unique viewing experience and a solid movie. I doubt there's anything else like it playing in theaters at this moment and that is because Andersson has mastered a style all his own. This is a good movie that I'd recommend for viewers with a little patience and an appreciation for the absurdities of life.

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