Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Andersson’s A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
a fellow Marxist would consider Roy Andersson’s vision of humanity to be
humanistic. He will pass withering judgment, in aesthetically severe terms, on
the nasty brutishness that is the human condition. Be warned, if you do not
consider his loosely connected vignettes utterly charming, you might be in
danger of having your hipster cineaste credentials pulled when Andersson’s A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on
opens tomorrow at Film Forum.
the precious and pretentious title is all you really need to know about
Andersson’s latest film. Technically, it is the third installment of Andersson’s
vaguely defined “The Living Trilogy,” but each discrete feature film is as
weakly tied together as the short fragmentary scenes that form each
pseudo-anthology film. Although each scene is intended to be viewable on its
own term, they are almost all more like sketches than proper short narratives.
will see plenty of people die in quirky and humiliating ways during Pigeon. Plenty more will simply be worn
down by the miseries of life. King Charles XXII of Sweden also puts in an
appearance in one of Andersson’s more surreal sequences. It is sort of like a
Monty Python bit that scrupulously avoids going for laughs and never finds any
Andersson could be considered closely akin to Bent Hamer, except he uses much
more muted color palettes. Relying on fixed stationary shots, he composes each
scene like a painter. It is therefore hardly coincidental Pigeon has such a static feel. Aside from the recurring traveling
salesman duo who consciously echo Vladimir and Estragon, there is little
spillover between scenes. While that sort of inter-weaving can often feel
forced, it also helps establish a narrative structure.
far, the best of Andersson’s thirty-nine fragments is a nostalgic piece that
features the same beer hall customer both as a young man in the 1940s participating
in the rousing sing-alongs led by the outgoing barmaid and as an elderly addled
customer, who still sits in the same table, presumably night after night. It is
a touching sequence that implies much through imagery and song.
the other hand, a sketch in which British Imperialists feed native peoples into
a machine clearly intended to evoke National Socialist gas chambers is so
ridiculously didactic, it clashes with the rest of the film’s stoic reserve. It
is also rather rich for Andersson to liken the Brits to Hitler’s Germany, given
the extent of Swedish collaboration and Britain’s resoluteness standing against
Regardless, the lack of a compelling
through-line and the general weakness of its connective tissue makes Pigeon a frustrating viewing experience.
Beware of the Pavlovian critical laurels sure to rain down. It looks
painstakingly composed, but there is precious little beneath its austere
surface, beyond an ugly contempt for the sheepish proles. Not recommended, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Contemplating
Existence opens tomorrow (6/3) at Film Forum.
Labels: Roy Andersson, Scandinavian Cinema