A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence

 A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence is a Swedish language film that, as it states on the title card, is ‘the final part of a trilogy about being a human being’.

The first two parts, Songs from the Second Floor and You the Living, were fairly obscure but reasonably successful films and this final one has been given a bit of a boost internationally by winning the Golden Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival

The subtitle of this movie is ‘Three Meetings with Death’ and numbers one and two of these assignations with mortality are dealt with quickly in the first few minutes. What runs out across the remaining hour and a half is a series of vignettes showing people going about their generally mundane lives.

It would be more than fair to describe the film as off beat and the first comparison that comes to mind is with Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, composed as it is of little sketches and concerned as it is with the nature of existence. Monty Python at their most outlandish could not have hoped to have been this surreal and oblique though. Imagine the flights into the bizarre taken by Terry Gilliam post Python and multiply them by a hypnagogic factor of ten. This film doesn’t have the fantastical elements of Gilliam but the characters within it do wander around in the same confused, isolated dream state of many of his protagonists.

The story, as much as there is one, centres on two travelling salesmen peddling novelty joke items (just three items as it happens). These characters recur throughout the film but there are plenty of other oddballs who get quirky little moments and snippets of banal conversation. Sometimes these people do practically nothing, like the woman who just coos at a baby in pram or the couple with a dog who lie on a beach, and they never return to the screen. Others get little dramas that punctuate the main events (although you should know that barely anything that happens here registers as an actual event).

This all sounds very critical but the movie sets out to do exactly what it achieves. It is deliberately minimal and challenges you to find meaning in everything it shows you. The film is like a sculpture or an abstract painting; you stare at it, striving for some kind of coherent interpretation but it confounds you at almost every turn. Maybe it is all just abstract and futile, maybe that’s the very point. Maybe that’s what it is to be a human being, waiting for your meeting with death.

There is meaning here if you choose to project that on to it. It seems to be saying something about the relevance of philosophy, whether we are truly alive even before death and if there is a freeing potential in imagination but none of that really matters. The joy in this film is in the artistry of its design and composition. 

Every single shot in the film is put together with the utmost precision and you feel like you are looking at a series of moving photographs. The whole frame is constantly important and often the most interesting things are happening in the background. The movie is an authentic piece of art.

For good or for bad it does remind me of a lot of the experimental theatre I saw at college but their is brilliance here in the drudgery. 

Is this one for the kids?

It would be a pretty precocious child that enjoyed something that makes so few concessions to accessibility.

The Ripley Factor: 

Well there is certainly no objectification of women here, that I can guarantee. The only two characters you could classify as protagonists are men but there are women that cross their path, or sit in the corners of the same cafes, or pass them in corridors. None of them have what I would describe as the Ripley Factor but there isn’t a single human being in the whole film that appears to have any energy or a sense of control over their lives.

Many of the females in the movie are archetypes but everyone is a caricature to some extent. The women aren’t empowered but no one is.

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