The dilemma of existence is a constant conundrum that characterizes the questioning traits of the human psyche. Perhaps as an answer to the everlasting enigma of who we are and why are we here, filmmaker Roy Andersson adds the final brick to his two previous films – Songs From the Second Floor and You – to create a multi-layered trilogy about the complexity of what it means to be human.
In what can only be described as a dark comedy, A Pigeon Sat On A Branch delves into the lives of a pair of funereal looking novelty salesmen, whose pasty complexion and daunting demeanor are in exact contrast of the products they sell, which includes extra large vampire teeth, a somewhat chilling “bag of laughs”, and an unsettling rubber mask referred by the downcast duo as “Uncle One-Tooth”. Through their journey, awash with the unsuccessful sale of their peculiar products, we will bear witnesses to the absurdity of the mind, presented in the form of four different acts distinguished by virtually non-descriptive title cards.
The absurdity of some of the scenarios can only be understood as a parallelism as to how nonsensical we humans can be. A less-than-appropriate flamenco teacher attempting to repeatedly fondle her only male student, the intrusion in a modern coffee shop by King Charles XII of Sweden and his troops passing by on their way to a campaign against Russia, and individuals who resemble pasty-looking corpses who sadly dwindle in a World War II-era beer hall.
This amalgamation of absurd and logic-defying scenarios may suggest a non-equivocal recipe for disaster, but Andersson craftily manages to somehow make it work. By exposing the absurdity of the human condition, along with the occasional cruelty that has characterized our homo sapiens nature throughout the millennia, Andersson presents the duality of tragedy and comedy present in human lives, and how both manage to co-exist in a world filled with confusion and despair.
To say that the film is presented as a philosophical observance of the human mind, much like Norwegian novelist Jostein Gaarder’s best seller, Sophie’s World, is putting a simplistic spin on an otherwise intricate plot. While Gaarder’s book focused on the individual world of one little girl, A Pigeon Sat On A Branch combines not only the existential ups and downs of Sam and Jonathan, the dispirited novelty salesmen, but also of several others who give the impression of aimlessly shuffling their feet through life, their phone conversations equally deadpan, all of them ending with the same tag line: “I’m happy to hear you’re doing fine”.
While there is no clear ending to this film, one thing is painfully evident. As humans, we are condemned to repeat the same mistake of not really living life until it’s too late. By dutifully dragging ourselves from bed to work to bed again, we are stuck in a never-ending cycle of monotony and grayish existence. The days of the week become blurred, and even our moments of entertainment seem not quite as unbent as we would like, plagued with thoughts about work, family, money, work, death. A Pigeon Sat On A Branch is a painful reminder of what life can be if we do not live it, if we choose to ignore the beauty of the moment, the significance of life, and the splendor of what it means to be human.