Life is meant to be silly, enjoyed for its small pleasures, its idiosyncrasies and most importantly the smallest and most mundane (often unnoticed) things. Swedish director Roy Andersson took the most uninspiring incidents and created a hilarious tale about life.
A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence is my favorite movie experience from 2015. There is no narrative to speak of, but the hundred or so minutes of the film went by so fast as I was taken into the world of continuous common reflections. The main characters (if there are any) are these two salesmen Jonathan and Sam who carry their valise and go around trying to convince people to buy their joke articles (vampire teeth, laughing bags and other things). But while they are making the most unconvincing sales pitches, they are constantly being followed by creditors who are threatening and hounding them to pay their dues. The two remain stoically unbothered by this and their business enterprise continues.
Jonathan and Sam are embroiled in their small battles and simultaneously you have these vignettes running in parallel that range from a man trying to open a wine bottle while his wife cooks in the kitchen and he suffers a heart attack, unbeknownst to his wife. A dance instructor continues to caress a student at the front of a class, as other students sweat to dance steps. The student innocuously tries to fend the teacher off, but to no avail and she comes back and does it over and over again. A scientist is busy on the phone engaged in a meaningless conversation while a monkey he is experimenting on is tied up waiting to be looked at. Charles XII enters a bar and hits on a cute young man as his soldiers march outside. A couple of older children fight with their dying mother, who wishes to take the family jewels with her to heaven. A hairdresser is busy on the phone talking about how business is slow, while his only customer comes in waits and leaves, not getting any attention from him. A man comes and joins others at a bus stop and asks around what day it was. The others say it’s a Wednesday, while the man thought it was Thursday. He is continuously reprimanded at the absurdity of mixing up days, for such confusion would cause havoc.
In all of this Anderson seems to be clear that it doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t really have to make sense. The one dialogue that is most often repeated and by pretty much all the characters is when on the phone they ask ‘I am glad you are doing fine’. This affirmative statement speaks to our perseverance and will to survive, no matter what the trails and tribulations that surround us.
A Pigeon is a spectrum of our humanity, a window into the world that is and how ‘logic’ ‘meaning’ ‘purpose’ and all those loaded philosophical words and concepts are what we make of them.
Shot with monotonic framing and universally pastel colours and texture, there is little that seems attractive about the film. But A Pigeon makes you want to sit and watch and know what other ordinary situations would be worth the experience, as they are often ignored or unheeded.
When I look back at the past year and the travesty and the good fortune that has been making the rounds around the world, all I could think of doing was sitting on a branch and reflecting on our existence. For some reflections on the state of our being would probably give us some perspective!