The Swedish film adaptation of the bestselling phenomenon, ‘The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared’, is a charming tale with less to say than it thinks it does, says Peter Roche.
Not content with having asserted their cultural dominance in the production of dark thrillers, moody electro, and of course Europop, The Hundred Year Old Man is Sweden’s stab at showing its funny side to the world. On paper the flick looks like it may just do the job. It stars the so-called funniest man in Sweden, Robert Gustafsson, and isadapted from Jonas Jonasson’s bestselling phenomenon, which was translated into English in 2012. The Hundred Year Old Man has a particularly apt title in that not only does it precisely describe the exposition of the tale, but it also captures the film adaptation’s meandering, long-winded nature.
Our protagonist, Allan Karlson is a slightly doddery old man living on his own in a cottage somewhere that looks very cold. He introduces us to his best friend, a very large and downy cat, who is then killed by a fox. Plotting his revenge, to the audience’s great delight, Allan resolves to blow up the fox with dynamite, and being something of an explosives expert, he quickly succeeds. However it is a pyrrhic victory for our pyromaniacal hero, as it lands him in a retirement home.
It’s from this retirement home that he climbs out the eponymous window on his hundredth birthday, and so his adventure begins. Or so Karlson’s latest adventure begins, since the majority of the story occurs throughout the 20th century, as his life story – told like a poorly remembered history lesson by a man with a penchant for hallucinogenics – unfolds. Indeed I would feel like Sisyphus if I attempted to outline the plot here. Suffice to say it encompasses Truman and the bomb, Stalin, Franco, Reagan, and the golden age of espionage. It’s sort of like a mix of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Forrest Gump and Johnny English.
From the opening scene, there’s a giddy sense of excitement to this film. Gustafsson has a very amiable screen presence, and his character’s stoic ‘it is what it is’ outlook avoids him getting bogged down with weighty distractions such as remorse or mourning. The soundtrack mirrors this; it’s an almost carnivalesque score that reminds us to take a leaf out of our protagonist’s book and not take ourselves too seriously. Unfortunately, it’s when the film gives this message that it gets a bit lost.
One character, a student who has almost finished a plethora of degrees, but never quite finished any, has an apparent aversion to commitment, which I assume is meant to contrast with our hero’s easygoing approach to life. The message is that being open to anything, Allan has managed to live this wonder-filled life, however the whole thing is played out as farce, and there is no special drive in his character that propelled these thing into happening. His life has been a series of lucky coincidences.
The Hundred Year Old Man is a film that’s hard not to like. It’s silly and funny, but not as insightful as it thinks it is. Fans of farcical hijinks from the likes of Pedro Almódovar or Marc Caro will find themselves right at home, although, given the squeaks of excitement throughout the film from the audience I saw it with, even those who have never watched a foreign language film before will find its dark Northern humour accessible.
‘The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared’ is currently on general release
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