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A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence

Roy Andersson's film is a slow, dreamlike tour through a series of loosely connected and often absurd set pieces

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There is no joy in selling jokes
  • There is no joy in selling jokes

As even its obtuse title suggests, Swedish writer-director Roy Andersson's A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence is not for everyone. It is indeed a reflection on existence — and does feature a pigeon on a branch — but it's a slow, dreamlike tour through a series of loosely connected set pieces. There's not much plot (though there is a dance number and a beer-drinking song); instead, Andersson offers recurring motifs and dialogue, themselves stretched into absurdity. (The oft-spoken "I'm happy to hear you're doing fine" is repeated twice in each instance.) And two dour novelty salesmen re-appear, perpetually failing to sell their three items: vampire teeth ("extra long"), a laugh bag and an "Uncle One-Tooth" mask.

The tableaux, each shot from a distance with a static camera and rendered in washed-out tones, are uniformly deep spaces, in which one or two characters act while static background figures look on. It creates a mirror of sorts, where we dispassionately watch others watching, even when the action is bizarre. (King Charles XII stops by a contemporary café while en route to battling the Russians.) If you're inclined toward it, there is a ribbon of dark humor that runs through Pigeon, but so too do Andersson's themes of death, loneliness and the drip-drip ennui of our disconnected lives.

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