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Reviews for June 3rd, 2015

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence

Directed by Roy Andersson

      A woman holds onto her handbag while on her deathbed because she wants to take it to heaven with her. An elderly man observes dead birds-- including the titular pigeon on a branch--in a museum. A man drops dead aboard a cruise ship, but instead of caring about his death, the ship's employees care more about how to distribute his meal that he had already pay for. Numerous soldies pass by a Swedish bar on horseback, and King Charles XII (Viktor Gyllenberg) soon stops by the modern-day bar to use its bathroom. Sam (Nils Westblom) and Jonathan (Holger Andersson), a pair of salesmen, try to persuade potential customers to purchase their three items: a laughing bag, vampire teeth, and a scary-looking mask. Those are some of the 39 vignettes found in A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence.

      Writer/director Roy Andersson uses the same tone, droll sense of humor, slow pacing and desaturated colors found in his prior films, You the Living and Songs from the Second Floor. He's a filmmaker who has a keen eye for the visual composition of a scene. Much like Fellini's films (i.e. Amarcord), you can pause the film at any point and observe it like you would a painting. Another one of his strengths that he exudes here is his ability to have the film walk a fine line between reality and fantasy. Every scene has a dream-like, surrealist quality, yet its concurrently grounded in realism and humanity albeit in a way that's somewhat cold and detached. Some of the background looks real, but if you observe closely, you'd notice that it's painted. Andersson understands that comedy quite often comes from tragedy (as did Charlie Chaplin), and includes plenty of droll, deadpan humor.

      The film's weakest element is its lack of a strong, coherent and captivating narrative. Not all of the vignettes work, and some of them feel slightly tiresome because of repetition, i.e. the salesmen's shtick. The same musical score also repeats itself quite often as does the film's tone and atmosphere. At least Andersson is disciplined enough as a filmmaker to end the film after 1 hour and 41 minutes; if it were to clock past the 2 hour mark, it would've overstayed its welcome.

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Magnolia Pictures.
Opens at Film Forum and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.
Questions? Comments? Please click here.

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