Pigeons do the funniest things. They burn their feet off with their own corrosive poo. They cannibalistically eat their dead. But do they reflect on existence? You won’t find the answer in this brilliantly odd black comedy from Sweden’s Roy Andersson, which he says is about ‘What it means to be a human being’. It's like nothing you’ve ever seen before – unless you’ve seen the two earlier films in his trilogy, ‘You, The Living’ and ‘Songs from the Second Floor’. Unspooling in 37 comic vignettes, these are Monty Python sketches written by an existentialist philosopher and acted by the cast of ‘The Fast Show’.
‘Pigeon’ opens with three scenes each showing a death. In one, an old lady dying in a hospital bed clings to her handbag, stuffed with cash and jewellery, convinced she can take it with her to heaven. As her children wrestle the bag from her grip, the bed begins to roll slowly across the room. It’s excruciatingly funny, and that coal-black streak of humour runs through the sketches. Two recurring characters are Jonathan (Holger Andersson) and Sam (Nils Westblom), a pair of sad-sack salesman who carry a beaten-up brown leather suitcase full of novelty toys – vampire teeth and comedy masks – around the city. In dreary grey-beige suits, faces stiffened into masks of disappointment, neither of them looked like they’ve cracked a smile or seen the sun in decades: ‘We want people to have a good time,’ they deadpan to their clients.
Shot in long takes, the camera fixed like a picture frame, there are images here that lodge in the part of the brain where dreams are forged. In one unforgettably bizarre scene, a few people are sitting in a bar having a quiet drink when in trots Charles XI, the early-eighteenth-century king of Sweden, on horseback, on his way to invade the Russians. After driving the lady-folk out into the street an officer has a man flogged: ‘Let him taste the whip.’ What’s Andersson's point? That life is absurd and death is on its way? But for a film posing the metaphysical biggies, there is tenderness and laughs. Its bonkers approach to storytelling and life may drive some nuts. The rest of us will soar with the birds.