A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
Dir: Roy Andersson
Once more, for the third and final time, Roy Andersson's masterpiece, the third in his Living Trilogy, was selected as the Swedish entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards and for the third and final time it was not nominated. That tells you everything you need to know about the Oscars I'm afraid. However, after the first two films in the series (Songs from the Second Floor 2000 and You, the Living 2007) had gathered a global fan-base, more people took notice of A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence and it gained the anticipation it deserved. It premiered at the 2014 Venice International Film Festival and it was awarded the Golden Lion for best film. That tells you everything you need to know about the Venice International Film Festival. The title is a reference to the 1565 painting The Hunters in the Snow by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. The painting depicts a rural winter scene and some birds sitting on a branch. Andersson said that he imagined that the birds were watching the people below and were wondering what they were doing and that the title of the film was just a different way of saying 'what we are actually doing'. He also said that he was inspired by Vittorio De Sica's 1948 film Bicycle Thieves but I can't see the connection personally. The film is once again formed of a series of self-contained tableaux but for a change many of them are connected by two characters; Jonathan and Sam, a couple of traveling salesmen who specialize in novelty joke-shop items. A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence is also different from the other two films in the trilogy in that time doesn't seem to be a factor and past events often play alongside current ones. It is a dark comedy like the two previous films but I would argue it was less dark and less humorous but that is not to say I liked it any less, it is by far the better film visually. The two previous films weren't always easy to decipher and both felt that they were personal to Andersson, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence is no different but it makes a couple of bolder statements and is clearly the most personal film from the director yet. I wonder if the last fourteen years struggling to make the films had a big influence but Andersson is clearly the pigeon of the title. One of the film's more poignant moments involves a reference to a dark place in Swedish history. We see a line of weak, dishevelled (possibly starving) people enter a huge copper cylinder that is finally heated and spun once everyone is inside. It is a reference to the Swedish mining and smelting company who sold thousands of tonnes of smelting residue to Chile in the 1980s, only to face a lawsuit claiming hundreds of people, particularly children who played on the waste site, had been killed from poisoning. It is a stark contrast to the rest of the film that were human and personal, but all fictional. The last film of the Living Trilogy might be a reflection that life hasn't progressed much in fourteen years, as it feels particularly bitter in places. It's a sad note to finish on but an important one, and perhaps the best of the three. The three films should really be seen as one but either way, together or individually, they're masterpieces.