Monday, 25 January 2010


My Life As A Dog (Mitt Liv Som Hund) was recommended to me while I was studying as an example of a film that has injected humour despite the somewhat sad nature of the story. It had been on my radar before that, due to the fact that I quite like a lot of director Lasse Hallström's work (like What's Eating Gilbert Grape? and even Chocolat - I love you, Juliette Binoche), but it still took me, what, five years to actually get around to watching it. I tried half-heartedly to find it at a couple of places back in Oz, but couldn't. Thank heavens for my local DVD library here.

Ingemar (Anton Glanzelius) is twelve years old, a bit mischievous, a bit of a rapscallion. He's always getting under the feet of his sick mother, fighting with his brother, playing with his dog. Eventually, needing to recuperate, his mother sends him to stay with some family in a small town in Sweden, sending his brother to different family elsewhere. There, Ingemar knows no one. Playing football with his uncle Gunnar (Tomas von Brömssen), however, he meets Saga (Melinda Kinnaman), a serious tomboy (he initially mistakes her for a boy.) As Ingemar starts school, the two befriend each other, galavanting around town, boxing, just generally being kids. Ingemar eventually returns home, but is soon sent away again, this time with his brother, to stay with another uncle, but that relationship is fractious as his aunt doesn't seem to like Ingemar. After the death of his mother Ingemar and his brother are sent back to the initial family they were staying with.

Ingemar and Saga start becoming better and better friends, but the closer people get the more they tend to fight, especially when one of them is still so vulnerable from the early death of someone so close to him. When Saga taunts him about his dog, whom Ingemar maintains is in a kennel, the two have a falling out that inspires Ingemar to lock himself in a summer house Gunnar has built in his backyard. There he reflects, before reconciling with Saga to watch a major boxing match - though neither manage to last the distance.

What was really endearing about this film is the way Hallström shows the entire film from the perspective of Ingemar. While his mother is sick, Ingemar never truly gets sentimental, instead waxing lyrical about people who have things worse than him, such as the repeated Laika, the Russian dog sent into space, effectively to die. Instead, his mother is always seen as somewhat irrational, almost mean in her insistence on calm - Ingemar is just being a kid, after all. But of course, Ingemar wouldn't recognise the significance of what his happening to his mother, most of that information would be kept from him, so she just appears to be a cruel old witch some of the time. And then, when tragedy strikes, it's not quite certain whether he truly understands the gravity straight away - it is Saga's taunt about his dog that really brings it all home to him, makes him suddenly grow up to a point where he can fully comprehend what is happening. It's really a film about the loss of innocence, one calculable moment when Ingemar suddenly grows up.

Glanzelius and Kinnaman (and the other kids in the film) are superb, very accomplished. And I'm not going to say 'especially for their age', because I think that's a copout. They were very good. The end. Hallström's adaptation from the novel (with a bunch of other writers) was beautiful, rendering the story on the screen with subtlety, and making it work for all despite the fact that it was from the perspective of a child. And he never condescended to the audience, neither in his writing or his direction. I'm quite certain that the children watching My Life As A Dog would take something very different from the film to the adults, but you never feel cheated or pandered to. The film is effectively two films told at the same time, and both of them are told very well. No wonder the film picked up noms for Best Director and Adapted Screenplay at the '88 Oscars (despite being a 1985 film in home country Sweden...)

Having said all of that, I watched it five days ago and I had trouble remembering it. I had to look on the internet to remind me of what actually happens, and that's never a great thing. It's a strong and solid film, and a good base from which Hallström built better things later in his career. 3.5 stars.

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