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  Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, A Tricks Of The Trade
Year: 2014
Director: Roy Andersson
Stars: Holger Andersson, Nils Westblom, Charlotta Larsson, Viktor Gyllenberg, Lotti Tornros, Jonas Gerholm, Ola Stensson, Oscar Salomonsson, Roger Olsen Likvern, Mats Ryden
Genre: Comedy, Drama, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Here is a museum, which includes among its exhibits a stuffed pigeon sat on a branch; if it was alive it might well have been contemplating existence, though now it is left for others to contemplate it. Then we see three examples of death. In the first, a man trying to open a wine bottle while his wife prepares dinner in the kitchen exerts himself so much in the task that he has a heart attack and dies. In the second, an elderly woman is dying while her three offspring sit around the hospital bedside, but whenever they try to take away the handbag she holds containing all her valuables, she cries out and refuses, wanting then in Heaven with her. Thirdly, a man has collapsed while purchasing a meal at a snack bar - so who gets his food and drink?

This was the last in the trilogy from Roy Andersson which took a stylistically similar approach to his observations on the absurdity of life, beginning in this instance with the absurdity of death, illustrating that when we expire all hope of dignity we might have hoped to cling onto before goes flying out of the window after. This was a very typical set-up of this director, take a serious subject, or at least a subject you could have a serious discussion about, and reduce it to a vignette that could be hilarious or utterly solemn depending on the personal reaction of the viewer, making us complicit in the act of observing as well, it being very centred on what the audience members would bring to the piece.

This time around there were hints that Andersson was attempting to coyly embrace the narrative form rather than the assembly of sketches that marked out the two previous entries, with the main story following novelty salesmen Jonathan (Holger Andersson) and Sam (Nils Westblom) as they miserably set out on a mission to cheer up the world with vampire teeth, laughing bags and a horror mask or three. That they conspicuously fail even to make themselves comfortable in a profession that turns out to be far more fraught with financial peril than the casual viewer might have expected told us much about how fun cannot be forced, and there was no better example than the decidedly played out novelties the two men flog.

They cannot even cheer themselves up, victim to the air of desperation that hangs like a smog over proceedings, though as with the other films there were parts that were very funny, offering a way out or a soothing release from the nagging sense that the director was informing us there was nothing amusing about life as we live it at all. Maybe a pigeon would be happier, they live more simple existences after all, but for us thinking creatures there were too many factors to play on our minds; and yet, that humour was not to be denied, could it be a lifeline or was it merely staving off the dejection that pressed down on us from all sides until we shuffle off the old mortal coil, defeated at last? Scene after scene showed us characters representing that failure.

They may be majestic leaders like King Karl XII (Viktor Gyllenberg) who we see in two skits, one entering a cafe as his proud (and substantial) army march by outside, wanting a mineral water and perhaps to chat up the young man serving him, then after he has lost his battle, a broken figure who cannot so much as use the bathroom on his own. Or they may be Jonathan. who knows he is a hopeless salesman but sees no way out of it, connected by needing the salary and also the companionship of his friend Sam, because he is all the lonely, brooding man has in this vale of tears. We see two scenes late on that Jonathan dreams up and is appalled that his own imagination could have brought them to such thoughts, they are among the most disturbing in Andersson's work and suggested he wasn't messing around anymore. And yet, the film ends with a simple, human misunderstanding that oddly offered a note of hope, we may be wrong, but in a good way. Otherwise, the casting of the gaze across the intricate design was more diverting than the melancholy, catching details and ironies.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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