Film Review: A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence

Every podcast I listen to and every newspaper I read have reviewed A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence with glorious rapture. Stars (and tomatoes) has been thrown at it without second though. And it’s almost reached a point where to even remotely ponder or question any thought towards it other than “it’s brilliant” is to highlight just how clandestine, thick and narrow minded you must be.

And yet, every time I’ve watch the trailer I just have seen a strange, idling, static. I It’s never enticed me in, or made me feel any warmth towards it. I’ve simply seen it as vegetative and distant and if I’m honest, have wondered quite what all the fuss is about. I’ve truly not seen what there is apparently hiding within.

Hollywood Sign - A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence

One thing I have learnt over the years though, and it’s horribly clichéd, is to never prejudge. The whole book and cover thing. This is especially true when it comes to foreign cinema, they do things differently, and just because a film made in France, Iran or Sweden may not flow in the way Hollywood dictates as normal doesn’t mean that it won’t actually be any good. In fact, the alternative viewpoints can actually provide a more fulfilling and thought provoking film. For every reservation I had towards the film, there was this small lingering doubt that said I was prejudging it through Hollywood eyes, that it’s power, skill and charm will be in its independence and that if I don’t make time to see it, I will be missing out.

However, while I can report that it is about as far away from a typical Hollywood film as you can get, it’s hidden charms are few and far between and more a huge amount of the film it’s nothing more than a monotonous mess that repeats ad nauseam. It is essentially a vast number of seeming unconnected vignettes that somehow has a style and tone that mean they feel as though they roll into each other. You feel as though there is a linear flow to the story, even if it’s moving forward by connecting A to C before returning to D moving past B and then revisiting A.

Broken Clock - A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence

And while the story, somehow works in a bizarre way, I do have three major problems with the film as a whole. Firstly, it has a tendency to hold onto an idea just a little bit too long. The film’s timing is such that it feels like it’s shuffling along, and while it works to add to the melancholic, depressed, cold tone the film is reflecting on it compounds this every once in a while but playing out a scene for a minute or two longer than it needs. It’s made it’s point. It’s attempted it’s joke. And yet it just takes one last moment to try and hold you. And it works occasionally and bores regularly. The end result is that it manages to take a slow film and reduce it’s speed even further and it ends up feeling like a never ending sigh. The film is only 1 hour 40 minutes and while it doesn’t feel longer than that, you don’t think you’ve sat through two or three hours, you simply feel like you’re never actually going to get there; as if time has somehow broken and stopped.

My second issue is that it’s just not funny. At least not sober anyway. There is a real mixing of serious glumness and dark comedy that more often than not fails to hit the mark. Especially as a lot of the jokes are either choreographed a mile off, or simply visual in the most reduced and simplistic form. It’s the kind of comedy that needs you to switch off the part of your brain capable of rational thought processing, because it tells it’s joke by not actually trying to be funny. It doesn’t set up a punch line, there is no punch line, but that’s what is apparently funny. And it’s not. Unless you’re drunk and think a traffic cone on a car is funny. Which I don’t.

And lastly, it’s final few chapters lose the plot and are so out of character, acceptability and feeling with the rest of the film that it’s hard to understand why they are included or what narrative purpose they actually serve. Thankfully though, they are so confusingly at odds with everything else, that the few stronger and more memorable moments that have gone before can push them away from the front of your mind and hide them so you don’t linger too badly on them or instantly bring them to mind when recalling the film.

Roy Andersson - A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence

Yet, for all these problems, for film that I found turgidly slow, frustratingly unfunny and full of dystopian characters and events that made me feel nothing except a depressive malevolence I still somehow found it quietly enjoyable. It was ponderous and pathetic, mind numbing and mundane yet I haven’t hated it. I don’t feel like I have learnt anything, my life isn’t better for seeing it and I can say wholeheartedly, I won’t be searching out any more of director Roy Andersson’s work, but I can’t declare it the worse film I’ve ever seen, or even justify placing it near the bottom of the any list. It is what it is and that’s unique.

* There is no star rating because I just don’t know, I want to say 8/10 but it’s not that good; yet 7, 6 or 5 doesn’t feel right and it’s better than a 4!*

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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