Is 'The 100-Year-Old Man' Sweden's Next 'Dragon Tattoo'?

8:44 AM PST 03/20/2014 by Scott Roxborough

The feature is looking to do for Swedish comedy what “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” did for drama.

From The Killing to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – Nordic Noir is red-hot. 

The boom in Scandinavian crime stories – most adapted from best-selling novels by the likes of Jo Nesbo, Henning Mankell or the late Stieg Larssson – has sent Hollywood agents and producers trolling in the region looking for the next big hit or the next hot on-screen star. See True Blood star Alexander Skarsgard (he's Swedish) or Danish actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, better known as Game of Thrones' Jaime Lannister.

So far, however, that success has been limited to drama. Scandinavian comedy, hugely successful at home, has been unable to win over international audiences. But that was before Jonas Jonasson and his somewhat cumbersomely titled The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared.

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The comic novel, about a centenarian who escapes his nursing home to go on a cross-country adventure, has been a global hit -- selling more than 6 million copies to date. The film version, from director Felix Herngren, smashed Swedish box-office records, earning more than $10 million in just two weeks. It has since grossed close to $30 million across the Nordic region, making The 100-Year-Old Man a local blockbuster.

Whether that success can go global is the question that could be (partially) answered this weekend as 100-Year-Old Man bows in Germany, its first international territory outside Scandinavia. Distributor Concorde, which handled the Twilight franchise in Germany, is giving The 100-Year-Old Man a major push as a key part of its 2014 lineup.

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Germany has traditionally been the primary international testing ground for Scandinavian fiction, and the territory was the first pre-sold for The 100-Year-Old Man.

Disney Nordic released the film in Scandinavia. Studiocanal will roll it out in France, the U.K. and Australia as well as handling international sales.

“Traditionally, all the bit hits out of Sweden have been crime stories,” director Herngren told The Hollywood Reporter. “This is something new -- a comedy. I honestly don't know if it will work outside Scandinavia.”

The film's $14 million (€10 million) budget is enormous by Swedish standards, around three times that of a normal feature, “though that's nothing for Hollywood, I guess,” joked Herngren. “That's just a commercial.”

Much of that is due to the elaborate set design required for The 100-Year-Old Man. The film's story takes its main character, Allan Karlsson (played by Swedish star comedian Robert Gustafsson), through many of the key events of the 20th century, in which he plays a key, if unwitting role. "Forest Gump with vodka" is how at least one critic described it.

“It was a big challenge to take a character through his entire life,” Herngren said. "Robert [Gustafsson] was about 50 when we shot, so right in the middle.… We did the flashbacks first, Allan as a young man. Then took a six-month break and shot the scenes with him as an old man.”

Foreign-language comedy is always a tougher sell internationally than drama but Herngren's more restrained approach in the film -- “I shot it like a straight drama, I tried to tone down any sketch-like comedy,” he said -- could play in its favor outside Scandinavia. The director also points out that the themes in the book and the film -- what does it mean to grow old, does life end at 65 or can we still have adventures -- are universal.

Hollywood is already circling -- Herngren said he has had several calls and discussions regarding a U.S. remake of The 100-Year-Old Man  -- but insisted no deal is in place. That could change -- and quickly -- if the film repeats its Scandinavia success around the world.

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