REVIEW: A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence

15 07 2015

PigeonCharlie Chaplin once famously remarked, “Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long shot.”  Swedish maestro Roy Andersson opts for the latter in his drolly observed film “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence.”  Yet somehow, his deadpan look at some of life’s most nagging questions manages to feel every bit as tragic as it does comic.

The film unfolds in a series of loosely linked tableaus, sometimes related to the main story and at other simply constituting a quick “meeting with death.”  No matter the situation, Andersson films it in long, unbroken takes at a safely removed distance – and all in deep focus.  This stylistic choice permits multiple planes of action and depth that rival Jean Renoir’s “The Rules of the Game.”  Those who catch on quickly enough to the convention might notice that sometimes the best action takes place in the background, where actors gesture both hilariously and self-reflexively.

The whole product recalls Woody Allen’s “Love & Death” in its effortless, absurd mulling of philosophy, and Andersson even ups the ante with his rigorous formal detail.  He even manages to seamlessly incorporate in some touches of absurdity, a tough feat indeed.  These moments of non-sequiturs and nonsense that often detract from a film only seem enrich the struggle of the down-and-out protagonists, Sam and Jonathan, two struggling salesman of joke novelties with the most humorless delivery.

Like any great work of art, “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence” raises more questions than it answers.  But Andersson makes sure anyone can walk away from his movie with the answer to one urgent conundrum: if someone dies in a cafeteria line, who gets the shrimp sandwich they purchased?  B+3stars

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