• (A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence)

The final film in Roy Andersson's The Living Trilogy, following Songs From the Second Floor and You, the Living, is a series of absurdist vignettes on the human condition. Our unofficial guides are Sam and Jonathan, two travelling salesmen with a suitcase of fake teeth and mechanical laughs.

 

3.5
In Andersson’s world, the people who take themselves most seriously are nearly always the most ridiculous.

SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL: I hate to be a party pooper, dropping critical waste from a great height like a pigeon desecrating a freshly dry-cleaned raincoat, but the Swedish nabob of surreal cinema Roy Andersson’s latest, the third part in a trilogy, is not quite as consistent as its unspeakably brilliant predecessor: 2007’s You, The Living.

That is to say, it had me clutching my insides only periodically without actually going so far as to prompt concerned neighbours to phone for an ambulance. Its absurdism is as nutty as ever and yet no less profound at moments  – one long pair of scenes form as acerbic a comment on war as any I’ve seen. But there are signs of the format becoming a little over-stretched in places, moments of repetition that detract from the overall effect.

That effect is best described as a kind of drily Scandinavian form of surrealism, as down to earth and dour in its wildness as the paintings of Belgium’s Rene Magritte. Its humour depends on visual gags and non-sequiturs. Spiritual cousins would have to include Terry Gilliam’s animations for Monty Python and the films of Luis Bunuel, especially his compendium piece The Phantom of Liberty, not to mention the deadpan delirium of silent comedy genius Buster Keaton.

Like the previous two films of a series that began in 2000 with Songs from the Second Floor, Pigeon consists of a series of short scenes depicting characters and/ or situations defined by their essential absurdity. Everybody in the film moves deliberately if they move at all – often they remain glued to the spot.

In Andersson’s world, every room is painted in the same pallid, grey-green hues. The people who take themselves most seriously are nearly always the most ridiculous. One scene is set in a café where the patrons sing to the tune of Glory Hallelujah. The next scene is set in the same place in 1943, but only because of a title card do we know the time frame – the café looks exactly the same.

The characters include a naval officer confused when he turns up at a restaurant at the wrong time; a Flamenco dance instructress with wandering hands; and a pair of stonily humourless, tramp-like salesman of novelty jokes such as vampire teeth who are yet to realise they are waiting for Godot. This pair, so delightful at first, wear out their welcome – as if Andersson was short of material.

The war scenes involves an endless string of 18th century military men, dominated by the cavalry, that keeps marching past what could be a café before their king wanders in on his horse and expresses a desire for the young barman. The glory of war can be felt in the air, in the proud marching band and shiny buttons (if you could see them they’d be shiny, trust me).

Later we are in the same café when the men return from battle – limping, exhausted and dejected, their banners in tatters. If their buttons could be seen, they’d be black.

Blacker still are two late scenes. One involves an experiment on a distressed ape with electrodes attached to its head being ignored by a lady in a lab coat. The other has a group of colonial soldiers piling African people into a giant copper cauldron that is rotated, as if on a spit, while a fire is lit beneath. This is later signaled as a dream sequence.

But seriously, what scene in this film is not?

Read more reviews from the 2015 Sydney Film Festival