A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence

2014 end of a trilogy

Rating: 17/20

Plot: A pair of traveling salesman try to peddle vampire teeth, a device that makes laughing sounds, and a rubber mask to people who don't look like they've ever laughed or will ever laugh.

Songs from the Second Floor; You, the Living; and this just might be the most consistent and perfect trilogy ever. It's a trilogy, according to an opening title card, all about "being human," and as a third movie that's a series of vignettes about nothing even more than Seinfeld is about nothing, there's really nothing else it could be about.

So you have to ask the question. What is "being human" really about anyway? Like most great art, it's not a question that this is going to force people to answer in the same way. Clearly, however, Andersson things "being human" is an absurd thing to do, and I'm pretty sure any pigeon you ask would agree. We live absurdly, and we die absurdly. We go to war absurdly, and we come back from war absurdly. We communicate absurdly and experiment on monkeys absurdly. We love and remember in absurd ways, we accept offers of free beer without even knowing how absurd the act is or how absurd it would be not to take it, we cling absurdly to things, and we dance absurdly. We're here for a limited time, do next-to-nothing with that time, and then turn into dust. This movie shows characters in the middle of the process of turning into dust, and that probably explains why all the characters are gray.

Not to say this is depressing or doesn't entertain because if you're approaching it correctly, it's hilarious, individual vignettes tickling, repeated lines and motifs bringing chuckles. And really, just Andersson's style puts a giant smile on my face. There's nobody else who makes even one scene like any of these, let alone an entire trilogy consisting of these drab tableaux scenes, characters seemingly trapped in strict architectures or absorbed into paintings that Edward Hopper would probably think were too depressing. I love how each scene is so perfectly constructed. Scenes open, and the first thing I do is zip my eyes around from corner to corner to corner to make sure I'm absorbing everything. Regardless of what actually happens or doesn't happen in each little scene, each one is delightfully exquisite.

There's a lot I want to say about this movie, but I don't know how to say any of it. In my perfect world, everybody's watching Roy Andersson movies and talking about them and buying drinking glasses from Burger Chef with these characters and their quotes on them instead of obsessing over the fucking Avengers. But this isn't a perfect world, and we're not perfect humans. We're the humans who Roy Andersson makes movies about, the kind that confuses pigeons.

I believe Andersson is around 72 years old, and at his current rate of movie-makin', he's not going to release another film until he's nearly 80. I'll be closing in on 50. I really hope there's another trilogy in him. I won't know how to write adequately about any of those either.


Josh said...

I can't say that I understand this any better than you (especially since you've seen previous work), but I think this Andersson guy is a master on so many levels. He's a great film maker. He has such an eye for color pallet, blocking, framing, cinematography, and pacing. Yes, I said pacing. I know that some vignettes moved slowly, but it just built anticipation; it didn't feel like dragging.

This guy also has a keen eye for making his art speak without being obvious. Even my favorite movies of all time have to be blatant at some point in order for them to be understood on how great they are (Goodfellas talked about how romantic the Mafia could be, Shawshank Redemption talked about how friendship and hope can endure, Dances with Wolves talked about stereotyping and preconceptions/misconceptions). Andersson created emotion and stimulated laughter, and through that, understanding at what he was trying to say.

What I got out of this was like you said: absurdity of humanity. from the laughable love (the dance teacher sexually harassing the student) to the trivial deathbed (elderly woman clinging to her 'treasures') to the sweet moments of hearing a baby's laughter to the incomprehensible quality of life that a salesman has...and, like you said, experimentation on monkeys, half-hearted conversations on the phone, the silliness of monarchy...

This movie certainly wasn't without genuine emotion, though. The baby scene was heartfelt and the scene with the slaves being led in the metal-horned instrument was wrenching.

Great film, great art.

Shane said...

Now that I've had some time to sit on a branch and reflect, I think I'd have to say that this is my third favorite of the trilogy. They're all sort of right there, but I probably like the other two a bit more. Of course, I've seen each of those twice, so that might have something to do with it.

In other words--you should see the other two. Get yourself an impcl card, asap.

Anonymous said...

18. you didnt mention that each vignette is a single fixed shot(which i know you so love). josh mentioned the pointless phone conversations but i think all but one of them was the exact same conversation. i feel like i am going to have to watch this again as i was paying too much attention to the almost pointless conversation i missed so much "Action". josh is right it was brilliantly paced. reminded me of playtime in how beautifully choreographed each scene was, also reminded me a little of monty pythons meaning of life. i watched one of the trilogy with you. which one havent i seen?

Shane said...

All three have the fixed shots with, I think, just a couple exceptions. I think the camera moves only once in the one you haven't seen--Songs from the Second Floor. It might move once in You, the Living, but I can't remember. Actually, I don't think it does in that one, but I remember the scene where it moves in Second Floor because it's almost shocking.

The comparison to Playtime is appropriate, and Andersson does remind me of a really sleepy Monty Python. I mean "really sleepy" in a positive way, by the way.

Thanks for the comment, Uncle One-Tooth.