RIFF “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence” (2014): Swedish Nihilism (Review)

Swedish director Roy Andersson has had a long and fruitful career as a filmmaker, he’s 71 years old and has been working in the biz for nearly half a century. Yet he’s only made a handful of feature length films with his latest, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, being his sixth (it’s also worth noting it won the top prize at the Venice Film Festival this year). He’s also made a handful of shorts and a couple of documentaries but what he’s most known for is his commercials and he’s made more than a hundred of them, here are some good ones.

But back to his newest film, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence culminates his trilogy of death, following the films Songs From the Second Floor and You, The Living. It may also very well be his last movie. Each film of this trilogy has no actual plot but rather consists of a series of scenes which are all shot in one static shot. Some of these scenes do follow the same characters and form something resembling a narrative but just as many have nothing to do with the others except thematically.

The main theme here is death, of course, but it’s also about humanity as a whole. You could call it a nihilistic meditation on the meaning of life itself, but you could also say it’s not really about anything at all (or just that life doesn’t mean anything).

If the title may sound pretentious that’s most likely the point. It’s indirectly worded in the film as part of a child’s poem which kind of says a lot about it. All the little stories here are about people who are, in some way, simple-minded and oblivious of the outside world or their surroundings, like little children. Everyone here thinks about themselves first and disregard what others might be feeling. They all have a white coating over their faces as well, meaning that everyone looks like a corpse. We’re all dumb children and we’re all dying is what this movie might be trying to say.

Then again, maybe not.

At the very least A Pigeon… looks gorgeous and is often hilarious. It’s also very much a case of Andersson repeating himself, though you could also just look at it as one part of a big whole that is the trilogy of mortality. It’s definitely a minor case of diminishing returns. Songs From the Second Floor was something of a revelation back in 2000 but with each subsequent film this style gets a little less impressive and A Pigeon… is a little less funny and clever than it’s two predecessors, though still plenty funny and clever. The humor is sometimes a little too broad and some of it’s just hard to make of, but repeat viewings will most likely help to realize what to make of this as there’s a lot to drink in.

The Good: Andersson masterful direction, it’s clear a lot of planning and preparation went into each shot.

The Not-so Good: The humor is a little too broad at times and the movie as a whole has a slight case of “more of the same”.

The Scandinavian: That “uncle one-tooth” mask.

Overall Verdict: 7.9/10

Written By Atli

Atli is a film geek from Iceland who dreams of being a great film director, but until then he’s going to criticize the works of other film directors, great and not-so-great alike. His favorite actor is Sam Rockwell and his favorite directors are (among others) Robert Altman, Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, Billy Wilder, Woody Allen and Stanley Kubrick. Atli also loves pizza, travelling and reading good books.

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