“I’m happy to hear you’re doing fine.”
A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (2014) is the final entry in the unconventional, loosely connected trilogy of films by Swedish director Roy Andersson that explore what it means to be a human being and the absurdities of life. The film was awarded the Golden Lion for Best Film in the 71st Venice International Film Festival.
As one of my Christmas presents last year, I received a collection of Roy Andersson’s films, which includes, probably his most famous film, A Swedish Love Story (1970), as well as all three films in his Living trilogy – Songs From The Second Floor (2000), You The Living (2007) and A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (2014).
“I think that the wide shot tells a lot about the human being that a close-up can’t. About their place in the world. The wide shot defines the human being more than the close-up because, for example, the room where the person is tells about his tastes, his life. Even if it’s not home, you can read the history of a person better in a wide shot. When you read this wide shot, there are so many elements that make the picture more tragic.”
The films are composed of short, thematically linked vignettes. Each scene features a pasty, unhealthy looking character or group of characters battling with isolation and loneliness. For the most part, these are ordinary people, who are weighed down by mundane everyday existence, stuck in the perpetual grind to make ends meet and struggling to connect with their fellow human beings. All these vignettes have a certain absurd comical quality, because, despite the rather unusual situations, they tap into emotions that are very difficult to describe but say something deeply honest about the human condition. Also, the choice not to intercut between the scenes and leave the camera immobile gives the viewer the time to discover the various details that are deliberately placed in the background of each scene. The use of a washed-out, desaturated colour palette in the colour grade only adds to the bleak and sterile atmosphere. Sometimes it almost seems like the characters are blending into their surroundings.
In several vignettes we see an assortment of different characters talking to someone on the phone and repeating the phrase: “I’m happy to hear you’re doing fine.”, while clearly feeling lonely, defeated or miserable. The film showcases people that appear to be trapped in their own private hell, worn down by the mundanities of life and unable to precisely describe their feelings or connect to the people around them. Even their partners, families or friends can’t seem to alleviate their sense of alienation.
In all three films of the Living trilogy, Andersson explores a variety of human emotions and conditions, but mainly focuses on themes such as people’s universal fear of loneliness, the cost of materialism, the lives of woman in a male-dominated society, the impact of the past on the present, the delusions and dream castles that people build and hold on to deal with the mundanity and absurdities of life and the masks that human beings create and present to the world in the place of their true selves in fear of being misunderstood and rejected.
A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence is an honest and dark existential comedy that will appeal to those, who enjoy ruminating on philosophical topics. I also highly recommend the two previous films, Songs From The Second Floor (2000) in particular, which remains my favourite of the trilogy.