A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence – movie review

This is theatre of the absurd, where you can try in vain to make sense of what you are seeing.


Suffice to say that it is commentary on man’s inhumanity to man, on selfishness and tragedy and loss.


It is the brainchild of director and screenwriter Roy Andersson, a Swede who with it has completed what is termed The Living Trilogy.


The film has 39 scenes and it was Andersson’s ambition for each “to deliver an artistic experience to the audience”.


He is out to challenge viewers to examine their own existence, to ask them what they are doing and where they are headed.


While Andersson’s aim was to generate reflection and contemplation, I dare say most – if not all – will be utterly perplexed.


He regards it as a tragicomedy and it is not hard to see why because the two main players here are a couple of terrible, bickering travelling salesmen.


Inspired by Laurel and Hardy, one of them is a little pompous and the other not really capable. The latter is sadder and cries easily, leading the former to constant label him a cry baby.


The pair is named Sam and Jonathan and they are peddling novelty items such as vampire teeth, an old style laughing box and their latest, an ugly face mask dubbed ‘One Tooth Pete’.


Their success is limited at best. They live in cheap lodgings (in a dosshouse, if you will) and face bad debts, while their suppliers are demanding payment of what is owing to them.


Sam and Jonathan are played by a pair of stony-faced actors, who, like a modern day Don Quixote, take us on a kaleidoscopic journey through human destiny.


The first three scenes in the film is a trio of meetings with death.


A man dies of a heart attack, an old woman is on her deathbed clutching a handbag full of jewellery and money, and a passenger has carked it in the cafeteria of a ferry having just paid for his lunch.


Each occurs without fuss or bother or explanation for us to make of what we will.


To give you an idea of what else is in store, I offer the following:

The captain of the ferry abandoned life on the sea and now runs a hair salon, but his only customer leaves upon overhearing that he only has military experience cutting hair.


A female flamenco dancer reveals her affections by touching one?of her male students.


Inside a bar, a morose and partially deaf old regular orders another shot, before we cut back 60 years to when he was a young man during the war.


An 18th-century army of horses and footmen is marching towards Moscow. Their king – Charles X11 of Sweden – stops at a modern-day bar with his men, lauds it over those inside and reveals homosexual yearnings.


And the piece de resistance … a gigantic and grotesque antique copper organ surrounded by British colonial soldiers extracts magnificent music from the wretched moans of African prisoners roasting slowly inside.


Several of the characters are not only ashen faced but pasty faced, reminding me of Kabuki dancers.


This is an existential film if ever there was one, which will garner only a very small audience.


One could call is challenging and confounding and one would be perfectly right.


I simply say it is art for art’s sake and if that is good enough for you, then by all means buy a ticket, but don’t say you haven’t been warned. I couldn’t wait for it to end.


Incidentally, now that this trilogy is finished, Andersson is already working on a new film, which he promises will be “even wilder”.


Rated M, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence scores a 3 out of 10.