A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
Sweden 2015, Director Roy Andersson
The most inventive title at the recent Sydney Film Festival and the best film I saw there because I saw only one, this one, was, “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence”. While I regrettably missed 99.9% of the festival program this year, I made a point not to miss this and was rewarded with the most extraordinary, surprising, crazily inventive scene I’ve ever watched when Charles the XII and his war machine on horseback clatter into a post modern industrial Gothenburg cafe in search of a loo only to find it occupied. No small wonder it garnered a Golden Lion at the 2014 Venice Film Festival.
I came away with that scene and others burned into my memory like great masters that had at last found a worthy frame on the Hayden Orpheum Picture Palace’s largest screen, treasured art deco confabulation on Sydney’s North Shore that it is, a setting Director, Roy Andersson couldn’t have chosen better for himself.
Seasoned film festival goers settling into seats on either side of us expressed chirpy curiosity and wonder at what to expect. I was quick to help them out: absurdity, quirkiness with a capital Q, insight into the human condition and every frame a piece of art. And Roy Andersson’s work is ART of the highest order. There isn’t a filmmaker alive who puts a candle to him for composition, originality, vaudevillian charm and apathetic characters, the latter in particular we summarily dismiss as products of bleak Swedish environs but that in truth are not so far from ourselves wherever we live in the world.
I was introduced to Roy Andersson’s special brand of near still life, one shot vignettes several years ago by a close friend who leant me her copy of “You, the Living”. I later bought my own. I relished every minute from the lonely female creature in the bar to her reincarnation as a newly wed bride sliding out of the station in her condo-bedroom-cum-carriage, while her rockstar groom serenades the crowd of cheering onlookers on the train platform with searing electric guitar. This scene was without rival till the Gothenburg cafe. That Andersson doesn’t adhere to the hero’s journey or a singular storyline is refreshing. His films occur in fractured bite sized pieces randomly cut together where some characters are returned to and others not but nearly all are inspired by a rich irony born of the pointlessness of existence.
On vignette storytelling Andersson notes: I work very much by intuition. I hope that what’s interesting for me is also interesting for others. So if I laugh at an idea, I hope also that they will laugh too. For me, fragments are more interesting: a collection of fragments, most of the time, is more fascinating than a linear narrative story. A linear story is a trap. You’re trapped in that construction. If you leave that ambition and think in fragments, it’s richer — it allows you to see all sides of existence. I want to tell stories about existence, and I think I make it more interesting with fragmentary storytelling.
And from my perspective he achieves exactly that.