Friday, 24 April 2015

A Pigeon Sat On A Branch
Reflecting On Existence

Swedish writer / director Roy Andersson has been reflecting on existence for over fifteen years now, at least in terms of his three films probing the depths of humanity's most banal but defining aspects; whether or not he's been doing it from the comfort of a branch remains sadly unconfirmed. The trilogy's final entry shuffles awkwardly into cinemas seven years after part two, and when you first find yourself gawping incredulously at Andersson's largely static, colour-drained tableaux you wonder what's taken him so bloody long.

Look closer, though, and it becomes obvious: every scene, every character, every line, every frame has been agonisingly and meticulously crafted to within an inch of its life. And life is Andersson's obsession, one with which he seems to have been preoccupied for so long that he's now involved in a violent love / hate relationship with it. Most of his characters live in the perpetual torment of anger, frustration and bewilderment with life and its persistence on getting in the way of happiness, but that's not to say that A Pigeon... is a depressing experience: Andersson mines the everyday drabness of his vignettes for a seam of dark humour - some of which you suspect might be particularly Swedish, but all of which betrays his fascination and affection for the human condition.

Like its predecessors Songs From The Second Floor and You, The Living, A Pigeon... comprises around forty scenes filmed in Andersson's trademark long takes and wide shots in full, deep focus, and set mostly in the boxy rooms that seem to represent the regimented featurelessness of 21st century living. The action, such as it is, takes place on multiple planes within the frame, and - as with real life - the more interesting stuff is often found happening in the background. It takes a few scenes to get used to, but once you're in, you're in for good; nobody else is making cinema like this, and it would be worth celebrating for that reason alone if it wasn't also so hypnotically enjoyable.

A Pigeon... breaks somewhat from Andersson's routine, in that it has what could loosely be described as lead characters - Sam and Jonathan, two useless travelling salesmen who attempt to sell feeble joke shop fare in a manner more becoming of funeral directors. Like Pulp Fiction's Jules and Vincent with the contrast and brightness turned down 50%, they struggle and bicker despite an obvious mutual devotion to each other. There's also an injection of blatant darkness here that was absent from the first two films, but on the whole this is a more upbeat affair than the insidious, crushing despondency of You, The Living. Elsewhere it's business as usual, the main course of sharply-observed, exquisitely-realised slivers of humdrummery served up with a side order of surrealism, this time in the shape of a modern-day bar inexplicably visited by Sweden's King Charles XII en route to his failed attempt to invade Russia in 1708.
To reveal any more of A Pigeon...'s singular inhabitants would probably constitute serious spoilers, since almost every scene could be described in a few words. It's Andersson's unique approach that's harder to articulate though, given that it's so purely cinematic: like his near-namesake Wes, his fastidious stylings might not be for everyone, but they are about everyone, and that's as good a reason as any to join him in his latest bout of branch-sitting and existence-reflecting.

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