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A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence Review

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One might also reflect on the impossibility of discerning existence of anything that might be called a ‘plot’ in this third collection of bleakly comic observations from the eccentric swede behind Songs from the Second Floor and You, the Living.

★★★★

Few filmmakers, indeed few artists in any medium, have illuminated the everyday frailties and absurdities of human existence with such a mordant wit and scalpel-sharp accuracy as Sweden’s Roy Andersson. “It isn’t easy being human,” declares one of his most pitiable characters, a phrase that encapsulates the 72-year-old Swedish director’s output in a nutshell. Subtitled “The third part of a trilogy about what it means to be a human being,” A Pigeon… is another loose collection of observation sketches featuring ordinary people doing everyday things, often in white face powder and drab clothing, filmed in dreary tableaux.

The film, whose seemingly grandiloquent title serves as a neat summation of the writer-director’s own observational style, opens with a shot of a man observing a stuffed pigeon, sitting on a branch in a glass case, long past the point of reflecting on existence or anything else. The man seems unsure what to make of the display, and for the next 99 minutes we’ll know how he feels. What are we to make, for instance, of the platoon of 18th century fusiliers who accompany Charles XII to a modern bar en route to the Great Northern War, only to be confounded by an occupied toilet? Or the passengers of a cruise ship contemplating the ethics of eating the untouched lunch of a man who has dropped dead of a heart attack? Perhaps, like the two travelling salesman hawking novelty items like vampire teeth, grotesque masks and ‘laugh bags’, Andersson only wants us to have fun. But towards the end the film, and thus the trilogy, A Pigeon… takes a turn for the bleak (the scene with the monkey is indelible, and not in a good way), suggesting that despite Andersson’s achingly empathetic humanism, his prognosis for mankind’s future is as chilly as a Swedish winter. A Pigeon… may be Andersson’s masterpiece, but like any challenging work by an important artist, it’s not for everyone.

If Chris Morris had grown up in Sweden watching Jacques Tati and Ingmar Bergman films, he might be making films like this. Based on Andersson’'s mordantly funny observations about the human condition, the pigeon has it pretty good.

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