Roy Andersson On Human Cruelty, Laurel & Hardy, iPhones, And …A Pigeon

Roy Andersson

The latest film by Sweden’s living legend Roy Andersson, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, will compete for a Golden Lion in Venice before heading off to Toronto’s Masters’ programme. The film supported by Nordisk Film & TV Fond will be released domestically by TriArt on November 14, 2014. Roy spoke to us about the film, his artistic influences and perpetual existential musings.

How does it feel to run for a Golden Lion in Venice? Do you feel nervous seven years after showing your last movie You, the Living to a cinema audience?
Roy Andersson: I’m so happy! It’s a great honour, all the more as I’m so fond of Italian film history.

How did the idea for A Pigeon Sat on a Branch come about and how does this film sit as third part of your ‘Living trilogy’?
 It’s not always easy to explain how ideas come up. One idea in the film dates back 50 years, other ideas came up while I was shooting. But my movies are always about ordinary life situations: how people act, feel etc. That really fascinates me.

There are two main male characters in the film, the two travelling salesmen Sam and Jonathan. How would you describe them?
R.A.: I’m very influenced by odd couples that have been featured in many artistic works throughout history. For instance some of my favourite classic odd couples in literature are Don Quixote and Sancho Panza in Cervantes’ masterpiece, and George Milton and Lennie Small from Steinbeck’s Mice and Men. In film I love Lauren & Hardy who were an inspiration to Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, in particular the dialogue. In my film, Sam and Jonathan are also opposites and it was a pleasure to work with their different personalities.

How are the vignettes interrelating in the film?
 My films do not have a linear storytelling. I prefer to capture moments in life, not only in the characters’ lives but also as they interact with other people. For me it’s much richer that way.

Are the two main actors non-professionals like in most your films and if so how did you find them?
I tend to mix professional actors and amateurs in all my films. I find my actors in shops, gas stations, in bars etc. I always have my eyes open for new characters. My opinion is that every human being has potential to be an actor or is already an actor. It’s not a problem for me to get them to act even though they’ve never done it before.

You are a true perfectionist when it comes to creating your frames. Would you say that digital technology has added freedom to your craftsmanship?
 I am indeed very pleased to work digitally. I’m a big fan of deep focus. I want 100% focus all over the picture. Digital technology helps me create this deep focus content.

How do feel about people today who watch films with poor screening conditions, often anywhere but on a big screen, on their TV sets, mobile phones, tablets etc?
 I don’t want to be nostalgic and conservative. I accept what’s going on. You have to adapt and make something good out of it. I’m not worried if people will watch A Pigeon on their iPhone. If they are interested to see clips on their iPhone, I’m sure they will want to watch my film on a big screen with better viewing conditions.

R.A.:You are deeply concerned about the human condition. How do you feel about war raging in many parts of the world today and people killing, torturing and humiliating each other?
 That’s a true tragedy. I’m very sad about people humiliating each other, especially in the context of war. We have to create symbols that are different, symbols that represent the good side of the human being. That’s what I try to do. I depict human cruelty in the hope that people will reflect about it. The Spanish master painter Goya used a similar device by painting a graphic series about cruelty in war as anti-war protest.

What makes you tick?
 I’ve lived four years with this film and that’s occupied my entire time. But of course I’m a great fan of good red wine, meat, good discussions, reading also, especially philosophers. I’m very fond of modern philosophers such as Martin Buber and Emmanuel Lévinas.

What’s your opinion of Swedish cinema today?
I work in a very different way than most directors so I feel a bit like a solitaire. I do hope though that my work will inspire younger filmmakers. Someone like Ruben Östlund for instance has taken inspiration from me and I’m very happy about that. It’s great to feel new generations taking over.

What’s next for you, the adaptation of Celine’s classic novel Journey to the end of the night?
 I love that novel. It is a masterpiece and one of the most important novels in the history of literature. The French publisher Gallimard really wants me to adapt the novel. The problem is that it’s a gigantic task and raising money for it won’t be easy. But if it is possible, even at my age, I would love to give it go!

via the Nordisk Film and TV Fund

Emma Vestrheim

Emma Vestrheim is the editor-in-chief of Cinema Scandinavia. Originally from Australia, she is now based in Bergen, Norway, and attends major Nordic film festivals to conduct interviews and review new films.