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7 Reasons Why Roy Andersson’s Latest Film is a Must-See Philosophical Wonder

7 Reasons Why Roy Andersson's Latest Film is a Must-See Philosophical Wonder

Constructed of gorgeously understated vignettes, which guide
us through the grandeur of life by methodically focusing on the smallest but
most resonant instants of it, “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on
Existence
” by Swedish writer/director Roy Andersson won the Golden Lion at
last’s year’s Venice Film Festival. Delving into a wide range of quotidian dilemmas via darkly
comedic exploits,

this episodic tour de force is as insightful as it’s blissfully
entertaining and distinctively stylized. 

It took 7 years for Andersson to craft this conclusion to
his revered trilogy. Now that it’s finally opening on American screens, here
are 7 compelling reasons why no serious cinephile should miss its theatrical run.

1. The Endearing Novelty Salesmen

Among the innumerable characters encountered while
navigating Andersson’s latest examination of the human condition, two
middle-aged friends who are down on their luck are the most memorable. Sam and
Jonathan are traveling novelty salesmen whose purpose, as they often reiterate,
is to “help people have fun.” They appear recurrently throughout the film as
they try to entice costumers to buy items that are mostly suited for a uniquely dark
sense of humor. Though they fail repeatedly and struggle to get paid, the
straight-faced businessmen seem to truly believe in their mission to bring
laughter to others – through their casual misfortunes they achieve their
objective. This unusual pair is strangely endearing and superbly embodied by Holger Andersson, as the overly sensitive Jonathan, and Nils Westblom who plays Sam, the head of the flawed operation.

2. Precise Cinematography & Delicate Production Design

Like with the two previous films in this unconventional
trilogy, Andersson is in absolute control of the frame in each one of the
static tableaux that compose “A Pigeon.” Meticulously arranging every element
to maximize the storytelling power and layered complexity of every scenario,
the director distinctively utilizes the foreground, middleground, and
background with painter-like precision. Besides adding visual depth, this
technique keeps each tableau dynamic and allows for more than one storyline to
develop at once. Similarly, the color palette employed in this installment is strikingly
homogenous, which gives the film a timeless and classic atmosphere. Opaque
browns, yellows and grays permeate the world from the walls to the last
costume in a noticeably conscious and impeccable manner. In order to have that
level of artistic control, Andersson constructed each set and fabricated every
component of the production design to match his peculiar vision. Cinematographers István Borbás & Gergely Pálos were his allies in this task. 

3. Absurdist Comedic Genius

Life’s pettiness and it’s ironic unpredictably are
transformed into prime material for the absurdist humor in Andersson’s
work. A king who will ruthlessly
fight empires waits patiently to use an occupied bathroom, a man’s death
results in a free beer for another, a lab worker has a meaningless phone
conversation about the weather while a helpless monkey is electrocuted, and extra-long
plastic vampire fangs are a bestselling product in this subtly ludicrous universe. Delivered in hilariously deadpan fashion the offbeat occurrences
tend to be darkly amusing but also very insightful about how ridiculous human
existence can be occasionally. With an abundance of laughs, “A Pigeon” is the most sophisticated comedy of the year and
an intellectual delight filled with clever gags. Dwelling on our misfortunes has rarely been this comical.

4. Exquisite Score and Music Selection

Whether it’s the cheerful and lively instrumental score
by Hani Jazzar  and Gorm Sundberg that adorns the film with an
ethereal atmosphere; classic rock tunes like “Lilla vackra Anna” by Norwegian singer Alf Prøysen and “Shimmy Doll” by Ashley Beaumont, which curiously enough was also used in the
final scene of Luis Buñuel’s “Viridiana;” or the diagetic songs elicited from
several characters, extraordinary music is another exquisite attribute of this intricate creation.

One remarkable musical number arises when a flashback to 1943 turns into
a joyous bar sing-along in which young WWII soldiers and Limping Lotta (Charlotta Larsson), the flirtatious owner, exchange
kisses for shots. The melodious chant to the tune of “Glory, Glory, Hallelujah” is so genuinely charming that its custom lyrics
will ring in your head long after that scene is over and whether you speak a any Swedish or not.  

5. Profound Observations on the Human Condition and History

Candid and irreverent, Andersson’s philosophical contemplations come
from mundane situations and daily tragedies. What’s usually humdrum becomes
unexpectedly profound under the director’s watch. We learn that sometimes our physiology
conflicts with our desires when a ship’s captain is forced to become a barber because
he suffers from seasickness, that those who work to bring us joy – like the
novelty salesmen – are often the saddest ones at heart, or that we rely on phrases
like, “I’m happy to hear you are doing fine,” as a way to relate to others even if
these are often just empty expressions. There are countless moments like these in “A Pigeon,” and
in all of Andersson’s works for that matter, that capture glimpses of pure humanity. Although we often erroneously dismiss them
as meaningless, they are definitely the fibers of existence: two little girls popping
soap bubbles, a man and his lover having a post-coiatal cigarette, or an
elderly man having a drink at the same bar he’s visited for over 60 years. As a poignant bonus, the filmmaker includes a nightmarish
sequence condemning the horrendous effects of European colonialism – and it’s visually bold in its depiction.

6. A Marvelous Ensemble Cast

A myriad of actors inhabit the elegantly pale episodes to assemble
a marvelous ensemble cast. From Viktor Gyllenberg playing a heartbroken King Karl VII whose
battles are both romantic and territorial, Lotti Törnros as a flamenco teacher infatuated with a young dancer (Oscar Salomonsson), or Jonas Gerholm as a
lonely lieutenant who seems to always miss his engagements by unlucky chance.

Others in even smaller parts like those who briefly talk on
the phone, commuters waiting for the bus, hopeless bar patrons, imperial soldiers, and Jonathan and
Sam’s unwilling clients, contribute to the glorious brilliance of this
one-of-a-kind masterpiece. They are Andersson’s most resourceful and nuance tools to complement his artfully designed settings. It’s not surprising that many of
them have work with the Swedish auteur in multiple projects.  


7. Brings a Masterful Trilogy to a Close and Leaves You Wanting More

Seven years after “Songs from the Second Floor” started this
trilogy about what it means to be a human being, “ You, the Living” continued analyzing
our greatest triumphs and most harrowing defeats. With “A Pigeon Sat on a
Branch Reflecting on Existence” Andersson completes one of the most
astonishingly original set of films in modern cinema and cements himself as the
most acclaimed Swedish filmmaker of our time. If you’ve seen any of his earlier
works it won’t take much convincing for you to surrender to this must-see
philosophical wonder. On the contrary, if this is your late introduction to his
brainy cinematic magic, you’ll want to go back and binge on his genius before you
join the rest of us in praying that it doesn’t take seven years to see another of Roy Andersson’s thoughtfully uproarious masterpieces.

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence” opens Friday July 17 in LA at The Cinefamily and in other cities across the country

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