By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on July 18, 2015)
A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence is the kind of film that critics elbow past each other in a desperate scramble to post the earliest time-stamped review that name checks Kierkegaard and Beckett. Just between you and me and the bird feeder, I find Kierkegaard unreadable, and once nodded off during a performance of Waiting for Godot. So rest assured, gentle reader, that you needn’t worry about suffering through smug references to long-dead existentialists and avant-garde playwrights…no siree, Bob.
You have to understand, I never went to college, or even film school. I’m just a simple farmer. I’m a person of the land; the common clay of the American West. You know…
(Awkward silence). Give me a sec; I just need to come up with some clever angle now.
How do I summarize a film that is cited in its own press release as “…irreducible to advertising”? Given that Roy Andersson’s film is a construct of existential vignettes which share little in common save for the fact that they share little in common, I’ll pick one at random, in which a girl recites the following “original” poem in front of her class:
A pigeon sat on a branch, reflecting on existence It rested, and reflected on the fact That it had no money It flew home
Now I may not know Schopenhauer from Fahrvergnugen, but I do know Douglas Adams:
The dead swans lay in the stagnant pool They lay. They rotted. They turned around occasionally Bits of flesh dropped off them from time to time And sank into the pool’s mire They also smelt a great deal.
Am I getting through to you, Mr. Beale?
Or should I tell you the one about the two traveling novelty item salesmen (Holger Andersson and Nils Westblom, the titular “stars” of the film) who walk into a bar and begin their pitch, only to be rudely interrupted by a thirsty, horse-borne King Karl XII and his vast army (presumably on their way to Moscow), who have all somehow dropped in from the 18th Century? Oh, you’ve heard that one?
Then pretend I never said anything.
I could describe some of the other vignettes, some funny, some tragic, and mostly absurd…but I don’t see much point. Which I suppose is precisely the director’s point. There is no point in describing the pointlessness of it all. Therefore, he’s made his point.
So am I recommending it? You may remember this exchange from Play it Again, Sam:
Allan: That’s quite a lovely Jackson Pollack, isn’t it?
Museum Girl: Yes, it is.
Allan: What does it say to you?
Museum Girl: It restates the negativeness of the Universe. The hideous, lonely emptiness of existence. Nothingness. The predicament of Man, forced to live a barren, Godless eternity, like a tiny flame flickering in an immense void, with nothing but waste, horror and degradation, forming a useless, bleak strait-jacket in a black absurd Cosmos.
Allan: What are you doing Saturday night?
Museum Girl: Committing suicide.
Allan: What about Friday night?
Or you can look at it this way: A Pigeon Sat on a Branch made $8,119 last weekend. Minions made $115,718,405. What does it say to you? Oh, OK. What about Friday night?