Do not take “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence” at face value. What sounds like a horrifically arty student film is the latest from Roy Andersson, wry sociological observer and “Swedish master,” as he's correctly touted in a press release announcing the film's acquisition. In “Pigeon,” Andersson confronts the mundanity of life, humanity's strangest impulses, and the absolutes of death in Monty Python-like vignettes, realized with a painterly quality. With a distributor in place, audiences now have a deadline for digesting Andersson's previous work in preparation for this trilogy-capping “Pigeon,” a true tragicomedy triumph.
After making waves on the festival circuit, Magnolia Pictures announced they acquired and will distribute “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence” sometime in 2015. The film had its world premiere in Venice International Film Festival, where it won the Golden Lion, the fest's top prize. The film made its North American debut at the TIFF Filmmakers Darren Aronofsky and Alejandro González Iñárritu have leant their support as presenters of the film for its US release.
Like the first two installments of Andersson's unnamed trilogy, 2002's “Songs from the Second Floor” and “You, the Living,” “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence” strings together a series of scenes encompassing a swath of socioeconomic situations and time periods. There are recurring characters – the “stars” of the film are Sam and Jonathan, traveling salesmen peddling novelty items like fake fangs and an “Uncle One-Tooth” mask (terrifying) – and one-off images that reflect true love and absolute nightmare. Andersson's imagination is limitless. Attempting to explain even the shortest beat may steal the life from what he's concocted. As our own Catherine Bray put it in her Venice review, “Pigeon” is “a species of existential comedy, playing out like a series of skits by Beckett, a sort of Saturday Night Live of the soul.”
“We were swept away by the humor, beauty, and sheer originality of this film,” said Magnolia President Eamonn Bowles in the press release. “For admirers of Roy Andersson, a new film from him is a true cinematic gift. For people that haven”t experienced his films before, 'A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existenc' is a terrific place to start.”
If Andersson is a blind spot in your comedic film knowledge, a quick taste to whet the appetite. Here's the trailer for “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence” that surfaced during its festival run:
A delightful dream sequence from “You, the Living”:
And finally, pure hilarity from what might be the most successful of the three films, “Songs from the Second Floor”:
Although he's highly regarded by global audiences, Andersson is not a familiar Oscar player. He has his fair share of accolades, including a Cannes Jury Prize for “Songs from the Second Floor” and his recent Golden Lion, but when it comes to the Academy, he's unloved. “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence” may not change that – it's weird – but with Magnolia backing the film, it should amount to Andersson's most high profile release to date.