2014; written and directed by Roy Andersson; 101 mins
If you like anything at all (and I think most of us do. Apart from people from the Isle of Wight) or you have a vested interest in any particular pursuit, then you wanna see stuff you’ve never seen before. Well, In A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence – I got that: the sight of hundreds of 18th century footsoldiers and cavalry under King Christian XII of Sweden marching past the window of a 21st Century cafe & bar as the king enters on horseback, dismounts and orders a glass of water before coming on to the young barman… and that wasn’t even the weirdest bit in there. In a way, I was prepared for the weirdness having seen Andersson’s 2000 movie Songs from the Second Floor and without having seen You, the Living from 2007, I skipped straight to the third part of the trilogy. Not that I couldn’t pick up the story because there is no real story in this “final part of a trilogy about being a human being”. Like with the previous films, this is a series of subtly epic vignettes featuring characters who are the nearest living equivalents to a Gary Larson cartoon. There are recurring characters, including a couple of down on their luck door-to-door novelty salesmen (Jonathan and Sam), an airline pilot who keeps turning up late to meetings and a recurring line; “I’m happy to hear you’re doing fine”, spoken by numerous characters in distinctly un-fine circumstances. In many ways, though, I was not prepared for the weirdness. Roy Andersson is a genuinely singular director, the only filmmaker I could begin to compare him to is Terry Gilliam by way of some thematic similarities of bureaucratic surrealism but even Gilliam isn’t as weird as this! Maybe the ideas of Gilliam with the mood of Aki Kaurismäki. It’s rare to see alternative comedy up on screen but this genuinely is alternative comedy; I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a joke twenty minutes after the fact and then felt more depressed afterwards. That said, I did actually find this funny – which is handy in a comedy context. The relentless rigmarole of Jonathan and Sam’s deadpan sales pitch, airport restaurant patrons divvying up a dead man’s lunch and the Flamenco teacher desperately in love with her scrawny student are genuinely funny by way of the direction and performances. Andersson holds everything in these colour drained, brilliantly composed, almost entirely static wide shots and it is a testament to how good he is as a director of actors that he gets good performances from everyone even within the very specific framework of what he requires. Maybe I haven’t described the film very well but how to describe it? I don’t really know to be honest – just go and see the film. With regards to this review, you’ll just have to make do and mend. Maybe this will help: someone once said that David Thewlis’ performance in Naked was so good that “you can’t quite believe it exists” – the same could be said for Roy Andersson’s filmmaking. It’s so different from anything else you’ve seen in any medium that even when the jokes don’t quite hit, you’re just glad you saw it.