A movie that gives the phrase 'bird's eye view' another refreshing dimension -- here the bird is ruminating on an end to human life on earth
A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence. A quasi-intellectual title like this attracts more curiosity than attention. Just like Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Aata Hai. When I decided to catch up with it in a late-night show at the recent International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Goa, I was aware that it would have only the most passionate cinephiles lining up.
As we queued up outside the hall half-an-hour ahead of the show, I felt the other enthusiasts, like me, were merely being curious to find out what lay beneath the magnificent title. However, once the screening began and when I observed the hoots of laughter the black humour in the movie attracted, I realised that the movie was in the hands of the right kind of audience. It felt like it was not the protagonists who were staying true to the title, it was us, the audience, reflecting on the search for meaning in the vicissitudes of human life, laughing at the absurdity of it all.
This is cinema that requires immersion, not fleeting engagement, immersion of the kind we would require for avant garde art. Of the kind we would require for a David Lynch’s Eraserhead or Luis Bunuel’s Phantom of Liberty.
Roy Anderson, the movie’s director gives a glimpse into his vision in a ‘note of intention’ on his website. He calls it the concluding part of his ‘life trilogy’ and considers it “a panoramic view of human condition” through the eyes of a bird where it worries about the “looming apocalypse” awaiting us as humans. What can mark the consummation of a few unexamined lives better than a clinical reflection, as resorted to the characters in this movie?
The first three scenes give an indication that the ‘pigeon’ is reflecting more on a possible end to human existence. They are about three deaths and the pursuit of hedonism that accompanies even the final moments of the three people’s lives. An old man gets the kiss of death trying to uncork a bottle of champagne; an old lady, in the final moments of her life, is not willing to part with her jewellery -- she intends to take it to ‘heaven’. A person dies in a restaurant just after finishing payment for his meal. And the cashier is more interested in disposing off the untouched food.
The audience is invited to find humour in the fatalism, cynicism of characters in the twilight of their lives, desperately clinging on to whatever possession they can call their own. The movie is a tribute to the departing souls who, devoid of many emotional comforts, are trapped in an ennui from which only death can free them. But are they willing to embrace death? Or have they decided to seek for a rather masochistic form of succour in the same vacuum? To go back to the director’s vision, is this a commentary on the moral cul-de-sac that is in store for us, the Homo sapiens, before we regress into despondency and despair?
In a juxtaposition of the past with the present, we see a vainglorious Swedish King, Charles XII, riding his horse into a modern-day bar and demanding ‘water’, trying to seduce -- or perhaps conscript -- the young waiter there. We see people talking over the phone using the pithy, custom-made expression, “I am happy to hear you are doing fine”: as if ‘being fine’ is an aberration rather than the norm in their lives. And all through this, two salesmen, their own lives devoid of any happiness, attempt to bring ‘fun’ to other people’s lives by peddling some banal novelty items.
Most of the scenes have smorgasbord of situations, shown with the aid of long shots. We need to pause, observe the screen from one end to the other and sense the humour each character attempts. And given the languid pace at which the narrative unfolds, we are given ample opportunities to play the pigeons.
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