By Darin Skaggs
Roy Andersson’s A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence is what could be best referred as film nerd feed. It has no real plot, contains many scenes of melancholy that are equally a black comedy at its finest, a bleak, yet beautiful visual style and not to mention the bloated title that all culminates into one of the most fantastic viewing experiences. The very opening challenges the audience as it shows three brief and very different tales about death, which get funnier the further they go along.
People might get frustrated with the seemingly random short stories that are loosely held together by two people we can barely give the title of main characters to, Sam and Johnathon, who go door to door and attempt to sell their novelty items. With a closer look at the movie it finds itself a hilarious, nearly depressing look at the tragedies of life. A good number of wide range of characters are doing tasks or just living their life, but as the title suggests, at one point in almost every little scene, one person reflects on existence. It could be the dying mother in opening wanting to keep her handbag after she dies or an elderly man who remembers a singing bartender that took kisses as payment for drinks. Nearly everyone wonders where they are going or where they have been. No one seems happy with their life. Several people on the phone respond with the line “I’m glad to know you are doing fine.” The fact that everyone is just fine means no is satisfied with where they are in life. Also each of these are delivered with an unsatisfied tone in their voices, almost to suggest that the characters we do meet are upset that they are not fine, but in their minds, are worse off. It is said enough and with such disdain that it becomes funny. The movie finds that perfect blend of humor and sadness.
The whole premise and execution of the film is handled wonderfully, but what sets this film above from the rest is the absolute weirdness that comes out. The whole third sequence in the death montage is a three minute debate on what to do with the already paid for food of the man who has just died. There are plenty of odd moments just like this and the singing bartender that just lends itself to being incredibly funny. Other surreal moments that happen near the ending of the film are not all that funny, but more poignant of the movies themes, which are humans are bad and life is hard. Some of these scenes include a monkey who is being randomly electrocuted why some worker talks on the phone about nothing and a group of what seems to be slaves that is just so odd that you will have to see it to even believe. These moments are much more serious, all of the moments are about sad lives, but these ones leave a bad taste in your mouth. As much as the film can have a sense of humor about life and about itself, it wants us to know that humanity did, does and probably will do some unspeakable things and those should not be ignored. The film begins with death, a perfectly natural part of life, then shows how worse it could get for the living. The final scene comes around as almost a sucker punch to the audience and asks if any of your smaller problems in life are worth all the worry and agony.