A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence

Director: Roy Andersson (2015)

As befits a black comedy filmed in beige, there’s an absolute lack of glamour in this weird Swedish whimsy.

Like the slowest of comedy sketch shows, it consists of a series of scenes loosely connected by recurring actors, locations and characters.

In museums, bars, cafes and street corners we encounter dance students, singing barmaids, a newborn baby, a ferry captain and a King.

Jonathan and Sam (Holger Andersson and Nils Westblom) are morose grey-suited salesman selling novelty items because they want to make people laugh.

In a sly comic riff on hit-men in pulp thrillers, they also attempt to collect their arrears from shopkeepers.

Their journey takes them through the pain of existence, encountering war, love, depression and death. There is dance, song and music.

People rue their bad luck in life and search for excuses for their unhappiness. Their loneliness is exacerbated by the laughter of strangers.

Philosophy  and forgiveness are all brought to a premature end because people have to be up early in the morning for work.

The rigid adherence to a life centred on work stifles creativity, torture is ignored and several deaths cause bafflement; to paraphrase Douglas Adams, no one seems to know what to do about the bodies.

The art direction is as measured and controlled as the static camerawork (Istvan Borbas and Gergley Palos). It is equalled by the precise timing of the actors.

With a colour palatte taking in every shade of beige, the worn locations are lent a dreamlike timelessness.

The pigeon appears in a poem, as an exhibit in a museum and off-camera in song. Quite what he makes of it is anyone’s guess – but he probably thinks humans are all cuckoo.

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