A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence completes Swedish director Roy Andersson’s three part commentary on the human condition. If you’ve seen any other parts of the trilogy -- Songs From the Second Floor (2000), You the Living (2007) -- you know to expect long unedited scenes of the dazed and dumbfounded going about the plodding processes of their daily lives. Andersson’s constructions feel like a string of comedic blackouts emanating from some surreal, bizarro theme park version of planet Earth. In his gleefully fractured facsimile, modern life has been replicated in great detail but slightly out of square.
The narrative framework for Andersson’s far flung, absurdist observations is built around the sad sack tale of Sam and Jonathan (Nils Westblom and Holger Andersson, respectively), a pair of traveling salesmen with sample cases full of vampire teeth, laughing bags and other party novelties. The film follows these glum dullards as they trudge from appointment to appointment; their dour personalities and hapless sales techniques in sharp contrast to their wacky product line. Other recurring Andersson flourishes involve a wandering airline pilot who seems perpetually lost and a series of telephone conversations that end with “Glad to hear you’re doing well.”
Exactly what Andersson is trying to say in each scene is open to interpretation, to say the least, yet they all provoke reactions. The most common is hilarity -- the film has many laugh out loud moments -- but Pigeon delivers its share of deeply disturbing set pieces as well. Jonathan’s dream of a fiendish musical instrument powered by suffering slave labor for the amusement of doddering aristocrats is a stunning image that won’t be forgotten anytime soon. And in an impressive bit of complex production, Andersson timeshifts a story from Swedish history to a modern day diner, utilizing a seemingly endless supply of extras.
Andersson has hinted that A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence will be his last film. It serves as a fitting conclusion to his ludicrous ring cycle and, frame for frame, is probably the best film of the series. Here the director not only holds modern society up for ridicule, but seems to reexamine some of his own tropes and techniques. The film includes a scene with a group of special needs children putting on a talent show in which the unique stylistics of Andersson’s approach are made manifest by unadorned reality. On one hand he seems to be trying to make amends for all these years of poking fun at the slow-witted, while simultaneously celebrating them. The trilogy’s lingua franca comes full circle, as the family of man continues its inexorable slog into an unknown future. The old retreat to make way for the young, and Roy Andersson repairs to retirement, having made this befuddled world a better place.