Now Streaming: A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence

In an effort to be slightly more relevant to my friends who don’t go out to the multiplex all the time, I present Now Streaming. This series will feature interesting films that are accessible to pretty much everyone from home (i.e. Netflix, Hulu, HBO Now/Go)Our subject today, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, is currently available on Netflix.

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In an early scene from A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, the final film in Swedish filmmaker Roy Andersson’s loose trilogy about the human condition, an aging, pasty-looking man struggles to uncork a bottle of wine while his wife sings to herself and prepares dinner in the next room. After a half-dozen or so increasingly desperate pulls at the cork, the man appears to suffer a heart attack and collapses on the floor, his wife oblivious to his struggle. The scene cuts.

Following that, we see a mother on her deathbed surrounded by her adult children. One of them is late, and is appalled to see she clutches a bag filled with her expensive jewelry which she intends to take with her to the afterlife. He vainly attempts to wrestle the bag from her while she screams in protesting, berating her in the film’s native Swedish, “that’s not how it works!”

In the next scene, crew members of a ferry hunch over the body of a man who died just after he paid for his beer and sandwich. The crew is left with a dilemma: what to do with the food that’s already been purchased? After a pause, a bystander offers to take the beer, with a noncommittal shrug.

These three “meetings with death” come close to the beginning of the film and give a good idea of what’s in store: Andersson’s deep-focus, perpetually-static camera gazing upon tragicomic dioramas conveying the merciless bleakness of human existence. As with the other films ‘s Andersson’s Living trilogy, Songs from the Second Floor and You, the Living, every shot is static and in deep focus, allowing the viewer ample time to take in the meticulously composed mise-en-scene of each frame. Almost any still in the movie would be suitable for framing.

Some of these sequences are more connected than others, over the course of the film certain characters reappear multiple times (about a quarter of the scenes focus on a pair of miserable novelty-item salesmen, nobody wants to buy fake vampire teeth) and some running gags show up consistently. Several key lines of dialogue appear in different contexts (many characters participate in identical one-sided phone conversations, telling whoever is one the other end of the line, “I’m happy to hear you’re doing fine,” though clearly none are happy).

In the film’s final twenty minutes or so, the film takes a turn towards physical violence, and the necessity of this shift is debatable. Let’s be real though, you’re going to be watching this on Netflix and if you’ve already made it 85 minutes in, you’re committed. I laughed more during this film than I do for most things, and I’m not really sure what that says about me. If you’re feeling adventurous and have a little bit of patience, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence is fascinating and absolutely worth a watch.

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