Editor’s note: Swedish director Roy Andersson’s elaborately-titled “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence,” opening in New York ahead of a national rollout this week, concludes his so-called “Living Trilogy” — a series of deadpan, vignette-like films that also includes 2000’s “Songs from the Second Floor” and 2007’s “You, the Living.” Each movie features a wide array of peculiar encounters with irreverent characters and strange scenarios as funny as they are melancholic. In New York for the release of “Pigeon,” Andersson explained his uniquely visual approach for structuring his distinctive projects by sharing a scene he hopes to include in his next film. The following description, excerpted from a longer conversation, refers to the sketch above, which Andersson dedicated to Indiewire’s Eric Kohn.
I work very much by intuition. I hope that what’s interesting for me is also interesting for others. So if I laugh at an idea, I hope also that they will laugh, too. For me, fragments are more interesting: a collection of fragments, most of the time, is more fascinating than a linear narrative story. A linear story is a trap. You’re trapped in that construction. If you leave that ambition and think in fragments, it’s richer — it allows you to see all sides of existence. I want to tell stories about existence, and I think I make it more interesting with fragmentary storytelling.
I wanted to be an author from the very beginning — but also an artist and a musician, so with moviemaking you could combine these three ambitions: the text, the picture and the music.
I start the production by painting, with watercolor, over sketches about each scene. And then I put these sketches on the wall, and maybe one could be before this or after that, but I wait to decide the order until we have shot every sketch. Oftentimes it functions as I thought it would, but sometimes it surprises me.
In my next movie, based on “Arabian Nights,” I will have the storyteller, Scheherazade, provide voiceover. I’m planning a scene with this man: He’s a little bald, and he’s not happy. He’s just bought things to make dinner later; in his shopping bag there was a hole, and a lemon has fallen out. I’ll call the sketch “a man and a lemon that has just fallen out of a paper bag.”
Then I’ll show it to my colleagues and I’ll say, “He should be standing up, there’s a stone staircase behind him, and he has just come up the stairs. He should be breathing heavily, because it was a long staircase.”
That situation could be very interesting in itself. But actually, he’s telling the camera, “Yesterday, I met an old acquaintance. I hadn’t seen him for years, since our school days. I said ‘hello’ to him, but he just passed without saying anything. Then I remembered that I had been very unfair to him many years ago.”
Life is full of such situations. I have many others already planned. Another one I saw here in New York. It was a rainy day; I saw a father and a small girl, maybe six years old, and he had an umbrella. This umbrella was very childish, with ears on it. It was funny. But I couldn’t see the face of the girl under the umbrella. The father was tying her shoes, so he was getting rained on, but she was dry. That would also make a fantastic scene.
My movies are about human beings — vulnerable, naked, sometimes defenseless, sometimes very strong — but for all of us, there is no happy ending. Life is a tragedy if you see it that way. But you have to forget that for as long as you can.