VOD film review: A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
Ivan Radford | On 26, Apr 2015
Director: Roy Andersson
Cast: Holger Andersson, Nils Westblom
Watch A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence online in the UK: All 4 / MUBI UK / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
A balding man stands by a dinner table. He gets out a corkscrew and tries open a bottle of wine. In the kitchen, his wife sings an old waltz, completely oblivious to his struggles. Suddenly, he keels over and dies. She keeps scrubbing the dishes.
It’s a bizarre introduction to Ron Andersson’s film, but one that sets the tone for a blackly comic 100 minutes. This is the first in a string of meetings with death, which range from hospitals and dance studios to pubs and cafes.
Through them wander a pair of suited men selling joke items to locals. There’s a fake set of vampire fangs and the season’s next big hit: an Uncle One-Tooth mask. “We want to help people have fun,” they say, their faces sad and pale. Needless to say, their business doesn’t go well. They have 14 days to repay what is owed, they are warned by their backer, “or it won’t be fun and games anymore”.
The thing is that nobody seems to be having fun or games. The masks scare people. The products aren’t selling. And their pitches in one restaurant are interrupted by an apparent parade of troops from the past.
Andersson films it all at a distance, capturing these scenarios in a constant mid-shot, giving events the feel of something taking place in the theatre. There is a whiff of Beckett, mixed with Monty Python: a surreal blend of silliness of philosophy that is amusing and bemusing in equal measure.
The opening titles inform us that this is the final part of a trilogy about being a human being (the director previously made You, The Living and Songs from the Second Floor). The emphasis is placed firmly on the “being”, as Andersson moves between eccentric humans and existence itself; this isn’t merely observation, but wry commentary, full of humour and tragedy. From Charles XII unable to use an occupied public toilet to the salesmen in search of a street address that doesn’t seem to exist, the limbo-like state feeds into the feel of theatrical artifice. Is this purgatory or some other afterlife? More worryingly, you conclude, this is merely the real world: a place where dance teachers grope students, people in canteens are happy to nibble on a corpse’s leftover sandwich and elderly patients cling to designer handbags in the hope of taking them with them when they depart. Goodness knows what the pigeon must think.
Every now and then, the waltz returns to punctuate the daft, delicately assembled parade. People pass away – but someone has to do the washing up afterwards.
A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence is available on All 4 until 24th December 2020. It is also now available on MUBI UK, as part of a £9.99 monthly subscription.