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'A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence' movie review -- 3.5 stars

Per Bergqvist, left, and Solveig Andersson in

Per Bergqvist, left, and Solveig Andersson in "A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence." Photo Credit: Magnolia Pictures

Life is fundamentally "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short," wrote Thomas Hobbes in "Leviathan," a notion humankind has grappled with for as long as there has been abstract philosophical thought.

The Swedish filmmaker Roy Andersson completes a trilogy ruminating on the meaning of it all with "A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence," and the result is a stirring tableau that simultaneously evokes the loneliness of our natural state and the joys of finding a distraction from the despair.

The picture unfolds in the grand absurdist tradition, a widescreen panorama consisting of scenes that play out over still, single takes from a distance. There are protagonists -- two down-on-their-luck salesmen of novelty items -- but the movie is unified by the small moments that occur on the edges of the frame, around these two men, that illustrate the complexities of existence.

Modern-day cafegoers are astonished to find 18th century King Charles XII ride in on horseback; a man slowly drops dead as his wife happily cleans dishes in the next room; a flashback is set to "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," in which a bar proprietor kisses a line of servicemen for a shot; soldiers lead African slaves into a churning metallic device and watch as it burns.

The movie's ethos is summed up in part by a poem read by a young girl in one segment, which describes a pigeon, sitting on a branch, wondering why he doesn't have more money before flying home.

It is equally, though, to be found in a tender shot of a couple cuddling on a beach or, in one of the fewer closer-in images, a friend reaching out to another in a moment of sadness.

This, Andersson optimistically says, is life: strange and mundane, tragic and humorous, trying and joyful, filled with meaning and utterly senseless. There's no understanding any of it, ultimately, so why not embrace it all?


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