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Film Review: "A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence"


Described by Swedish director Roy Andersson as the third part in his trilogy of films about "being a human being," the surreal "A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence" is a comedy for existentialists. The film unfolds as a series of vignettes (ranging from one to 10 minutes), filmed in a single, static shot, and staged in meticulously composed tableau. Each scene centers on interactions between ordinary folk as they go about their humdrum lives; these interactions are sometimes morbid, occasionally nonsensical, and always entertaining.

The film does have a through-line of sorts, involving Jonathan (Holger Andersson) and Sam (Nils Westblom), two novelty item salesmen who pop up periodically to deliver their hilariously deadpan spiel, bicker like a married couple, and fail to collect any money from the customers who owe them. The scenes gradually blend to form a tapestry of the human condition, delivering a call for increased empathy as a weapon against the isolating nature of life; the frequently repeated line, "I'm happy to hear you're doing fine" becomes a stand-in for the superficial pleasantries we use to avoid real connection with one another. Even when depicting the sadness, loneliness, and despair in everyday life, Andersson sidesteps pessimism or cynicism to uncover the beauty, humor, and profundity in the mundane as well as the absurd.