When You Get Older It Is Often Hard to Change Style

in 71st Venice International Film Festival

by Jon Asp

With his fifth feature film, the final part of the “The Living Trilogy”, Roy Andersson won the Golden Lion at Venice Film Festival for A Pigeon Sat on Branch Reflecting on Existence (En duva satt på en gren och funderade på tillvaron). Andersson made his feature debut in 1970, with A Swedish Love Story (En kärlekshistoria) gaining him a huge Swedish breakthrough. His third feature Songs from the Second Floor (Sånger från andra våningen, 2000) marked his comeback to feature film, after a long, innovative career in commercials. The film won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes. A Pigeon on Sat a Branch is his first film shot with digital camera. What has the shift from 35mm to digital camera meant for you? When you get older it is often hard to change style. But this time that has actually not been the case. I am very positive to this change, to have shot the film digitally. I am happy for having found my way in this method, of course with the support of my outstanding collaborators. In practice, it has meant that I can more easily rely on the wide image. Earlier I was more concerned and more anxious about obtaining focus in the background, and so forth. I am a fan of complete focus, also in depth, and with this technique it has become possible to accomplish to one hundred percent, which I find amazing. The abstract and painterly aesthetics of A Pigeon Sat on a Branch is reminiscent of my previous work. But I believe the visual language is more daring: images are slightly brighter and contain a stronger element of sharpness, due to the use of a high-resolution digital camera. In addition, I have aimed to achieve more dynamic sceneries, to make the new film feel less like a series of tableaux, and to have a more developed and distinct rhythm. Are you more pleased with A Pigeon Sat on a Branch than previous films? Yes, with the digital technique I have nothing to complain about. Overall, this is as good as my team and I are capable of. We have taken it to the extreme, and I believe we have arrived at an outstanding result. It feels a bit odd to sit here and praise my own work – still I do it. Did you manage without cash flow from commercials?

Yes, unlike the two previous films in “The Living Trilogy”, we financed A Pigeon Sat on a Branch without making commercials during the process. Even if the extra cash could have come handy at some stage, I found it satisfying to be able to focus entirely on the film. In a conversation we had when Songs from the Second Floor was released in 2000 you described your style as a sort of ‘trivialism’. Is that still valid? Yes, I think A Pigeon is an even clearer example of what I consider ‘trivialism’. This refers to the trivial heightened into a more appealing experience. And that also goes for painting in general, the entire history of art is filled with trivialities because they are a part of our lives, our premises in life. I love that, and in the future I would like to become even more trivial than I was in this film. Even more so than the scenes with the Swedish king Charles XII on his way to the field in Poltava, where he unexpectedly appears in a very trivial situation, finding himself thirsty and later with the need to visit the toilet. You seem to have a special affection for salesmen – protagonists of your films are selling crucifixes (Songs), refrigerators (A Swedish Love Story), and as in A Pigeon Sat on a Branch, laughing gadgets. Is this a kind of self-portrait? In a way, it comes from my childhood, from family members selling things. But being a salesman is so universal; that is pretty much what life is about. Selling and marketing is the actual fundament of a civilized society, one could argue. I am going to convince this fund or that television broadcaster that this is interesting and important. I am a salesman myself, and we all are. We are supposed to promote ourselves, and to reach out with our things and ideas. How did you get the idea for the two salesmen living in a flophouse? The hotel stems directly from my own background in Gothenburg. The place where I grew up is now a flophouse, and sadly my brother, a drug abuser for a long-time, ended up there. Therefore I know about the fates of that environment. In a wider sense, these companions are directly modeled on literature: Don Quixote and Sancho Panza; John Steinbeck’s Mice and Men; and, not to forget, from film history, Laurel and Hardy, who were also a source of inspiration for Beckett. The guys in the film are a version of Laurel and Hardy. One of them is a little pompous, whereas the other is not really capable; he is a little sadder and cries easily. I am very much inspired by these male double acts from cultural history. “The Living Trilogy” has now come to its end. What can we expect from Roy Andersson next?

I am already working on a new film, a fourth part of the trilogy. It is going to be even wilder, with even more charm and appeal. A Pigeon Sat on a Branch has this too, but the next one is going to take the wildness even further. But I will never abandon the probable and possible. My filmmaking has to be attached to a certain practicality, a kind of stylized realism. You have previously mentioned Céline’s Journey to the End of the Night as a dream project. Would it not be a good time now? I would love that. But I do not think we can come up with the money. You see, the story takes place in three different continents, and I could only think of shooting it in French, not English, which will not make the financing aspects any easier.

Edited by Derek Malcolm