Scandinavian gloom merchant Roy Andersson returns, at long last, to complete his celebrated The Living trilogy with this snot-green variety show of masterful comedy vignettes. It’s a film with sobering things to say about the daily grind and colonialist guilt, and yet Andersson still finds a defiant warmth for our sad old race amidst all that overcast northern sobriety. We open with a few short gags about death before happening upon our two downtrodden leads, a pair of travelling joke shop salesmen who stumble about town, flogging their dreary wares. Their odyssey takes us to a tremendous musical bar scene in 1943, a hands-on dance instructor groping one of her troupe and a cavalry-filled cafe as Sweden’s Charles XII heads off to war in 1709. Laughter and misery are served in equal measures; a stunning hammer-blow late on offers cold tragedy too. Over the course of this trilogy’s 14-year lifespan, Andersson has kept his signature tone remarkably intact, even managing to distil it further en route. The process has seen his surrealist flourishes and beautiful, ornate sets grow grander in scale – whilst also nabbing him a deserved Gold Lion at Venice last year.
A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence | Directed by Roy Andersson (Sweden 2014) with Holger Andersson, Nils Westblom. Starts January 1
Originally published in issue #134, January 2015.