- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Tumblr
Robert Gustafsson has been called “the funniest man in Sweden.” Meh. Must be an acquired taste. For the uninitiated, the comedian’s mugging in a role that Peter Sellers might have aced in the 1960s is arguably one of the chief reasons that The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared sputters after an enjoyably antic start. Felix Herngren’s adaptation of the bestselling novel by Jonas Jonasson is an absurdist comic fable about an ordinary man who keeps stumbling into extraordinary circumstances. It plays like a broadly farcical Forrest Gump with elements of Zelig – only laced with penis jokes, slapsticky dictatorial dalliances and gags involving elephant dung.
A huge box office smash at home, the film has grossed more than $20 million since opening on Christmas Day. Given the popularity of the book, which has been widely translated and reportedly has sold over three million copies, it should also get a leg up in many foreign territories, though European markets with a weakness for high-concept lowbrow comedy will be the most receptive.
An amusing prologue details how irrepressible geriatric Allan Karlsson (Gustafsson) ended up in a retirement home after dynamiting the fox that killed his beloved cat, Molotov. While attendants at the home are busy losing count of the candles on his 100th birthday cake, he slips out the window and off the grounds. With the handful of change in his pocket, he gets a bus ticket to a nearby town, somehow ending up with a suitcase belonging to a violent skinhead biker (Simon Seppanen). He meets a kindred spirit at his destination in Julius (Iwar Wiklander), another wily old geezer who shares a taste for booze and a refusal to let the advancing years conquer him.
Discovering that the suitcase contains a cool 50 million in cash, the pair hotfoot it across Sweden, recruiting a driver in Benny (David Wiberg), a perpetual student who can never settle on a career path long enough to graduate. They also team up with Gunilla (Mia Skaringer), the plucky ex-girlfriend of a biker gang member, accidentally dispatching foes and evading cops as they make their escape.
Punctuating this picaresque journey through the centenarian’s present are recollections of his even more eventful past. Exhibiting an innate skill for blowing things up from a very young age, the orphaned, uneducated Allan went from a mental institution to a weapons factory to the frontline of the Spanish Civil War, and from New York to Moscow to Paris. Along the way, he dines with General Franco, gets drunk on tequila with Harry S. Truman, shows J. Robert Oppenheimer where he’s going wrong with the invention of the atomic bomb, dances with Stalin, gets stuck in a gulag with Albert Einstein’s idiot brother, and causes the crossed wire between Reagan and Gorbachev that brings down the Berlin Wall.
Many will find this riotous stuff, even with the cartoonishly lame impersonations of famous figures from history. I confess I did not. The humor is based primarily around Allan’s shrug of indifference to the extraordinary events he has witnessed and often influenced, and to his unflappable calm while chaos and danger whirl all around him. Whether he’s too stupid or too smart to take stock of these experiences is open to interpretation. But the goofball satire has no teeth. It gets by mainly on sheer unapologetic ludicrousness. Long before Sonja the elephant shows up and everyone starts donning circus costumes, the movie has acquired a terminal case of the cutes.
On the plus side, the sharp production values fill the widescreen frame colorfully, even if, for all its elaborate effects work, this basically belongs to a breed of screen comedy that flourished fifty years ago. Herngren slaps on Matti Bye’s jaunty music to propel the action, but at close to two hours, the over-the-top acting and non-stop quirks wear thin. While some of the jumps between past and present are clunky, the director and co-writer Hans Ingemansson do have a reasonably sure handle on the convoluted plotting, and several of the inadvertent deaths caused along the way are quite funny. Given that Allan has no use for regret, these casualties seldom cast a pall.
Venue: Berlin Film Festival (Berlinale Special)
Production company: Nice FLX Pictures, in co-production with Film I Vast, TV4, Buena Vista International Sweden, NordsvenskFilmunderhallning
Cast: Robert Gustafsson, Iwar Wiklander, Mia Skaringer, David Wiberg, Jens Hulten, Alan Ford, Ralph Carlsson, Bianca Cruzeiro, SvenLonn, Simon Seppanen, Gustav Deinoff
Director: Felix Herngren
Screenwriters: Felix Herngren, Hans Ingemansson, based on the novel by Jonas Jonasson
Producers: Malte Forssell, Felix Herngren, Henrik Jansson-Schweizer, Patrick Nebout
Director of photography: Goran Hallberg
Production designer: Mikael Varhelyi
Music: Matti Bye
Costume designer: Madeleine Kihlbom Thor
Editor: Henrik Kallberg
Sales: Studio Canal
No rating, 114 minutes
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day