Saturday 1 December 2007

My Life as a Dog (1985) Lasse Hallström

Lasse Hallström has become something of an important figure in world film. He's now directed four actors to Oscar nominations and one to a win, in such acclaimed films as What's Eating Gilbert Grape, The Cider House Rules and Chocolat. Yet he started out making things like Abba: The Movie, hardly surprising for a Swede, and his first real critical success came with this film, based on the novel by Reidar Jönsson, who also co-wrote.

It's a coming of age story that focuses on young Ingemar, played in Louis Malle fashion by a realistic and natural young actor who had never appeared in film before, Anton Glanzelius, who is excellent. He's a good kid and a bright and quirky one too, but he has a hard time of it, with a pain in the neck elder brother, a mother dying of TB and an absent father somewhere near the equator loading bananas. As he and his brother don't get on well, as evidenced by disturbing early scenes involving bottles, guns, dogs and damaged manhoods, and because Ingemar has a knack of getting into trouble anyway, they're split up and sent to live with different relatives.

This all seems really sad but it proves to be a real eye opener for Ingemar and a real treat for us. There's pain and joy and sorrow and discovery, everything that there should be in a coming of age story, but it's done so well. His uncle is a real character still full of whimsy and the joys of youth, and Ingemar gets to learn about his business blowing glass. It does seem amazing to someone who grew up in the 80s in the west that a country would allow such blatant potential danger to enter the lives of the young but hey, why not? I'm no big fan of the safety culture.

Ingemar also befriends an old bedridden man being driven slowly mad by the hammering of a neighbour on his roof, and reads to him from a lingerie catalogue. He gets to learn to box and play football with other kids, especially Saga, a young tomboy who plays on the same team who joins him on his journey of discovery. He even gets to befriend a voluptuous young lady from the glassworks who his uncle lusts after, and turns up to sessions where she poses naked for a sculptor so that he can validate that nothing untoward went on.

It goes way beyond the characters and the situations though. There are little adventures throughout that teach Ingemar about life and love and sex and death, and we ride along with him. It's touching and joyous and poignant and it is not to be missed. I now feel elated that I've seen it and disappointed that I let it sit for five months on my DVR before watching.

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