Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Felix Herngren
Stars: Robert Gustafsson, Iwar Wiklander, David Wiberg, Alan Ford, Mia Skaringer, Johan Rheborg, Jans Helten, Sven Lonn, Georg Nikoloff.
Not only is it a mouthful of a title, but it pretty much sums up the plot of this entertaining and offbeat Swedish road movie comedy adapted from Jonas Jonasson’s best selling novel that has sold over six million copies. The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window has been a huge box office success in its native country, and recently opened the Scandinavian Film Festival here in Australia. And it certainly has some crowd pleasing elements.
The titular character is Allan Karlsson (played by popular Swedish comedian Robert Gustafsson), who feels bored with life in the nursing home he calls home in the small village of Malmkoping. As the staff and other residents prepare to celebrate his mile stone birthday, Allan makes his escape via his bedroom window. He makes his way to the nearby bus station and buys a ticket on the first bus out of town with his small pocket change. While waiting for the bus, a rude skinhead leaves a valise in his care while he uses the toilet. Allan boards the bus and blithely heads off with the suitcase in tow.
Later he ends up sharing a meal with Julius (Iwar Wiklander), the station master at the disused railway station, who seems to be a kindred spirit. Together they open the bag and discover it contains $50 million. The pair find themselves on the run with a small fortune and being pursued by a gang of skinhead bikies desperate to reclaim the money for a formidable crime kingpin, who has an accent remarkably like Michael Caine’s. The pair manage to hitch a ride with Benny (David Wiberg) a thirtysomething perennial student who seems unable to decide what he wants to do with his life.
Along the course of the journey, though we get some colourful flashbacks to Allan’s younger years and some of his adventures. Ever since he was youngster, Allan has had a fascination with explosives, which more often than not landed him in trouble. He fought in the Spanish Civil War and saved Franco from death; he went to America and advised Robert Oppenheimer on how to make his atomic bomb work; he drank with Harry S Truman; he also met Albert Einstein’s dimwitted brother Herbert; and he also met Stalin, who quickly sent him off to a gulag.
Because of the famous people Allan claims to have met and influenced during his early journeys across Europe, many people have compared this film to the Oscar winning Forrest Gump. But for me a better comparison is with Little Big Man, Arthur Penn’s sprawling and fanciful 1970 western featuring Dustin Hoffman as a 121-year old man who regales a disbelieving journalist with tales of famous people he met and details his exploits from the old west, including being the only survivor of Custer’s Last Stand at Little Big Horn.
There is a shambolic but amiable enough charm to this quirky shaggy dog tale, thanks to the mischievous and easy going performance from Gustafsson, hidden beneath layers of Bad Grandpa-like prosthetic makeup. And he brings a surprising energy and gusto to his role as a bit of a clueless buffoon. There is also plenty of droll humour throughout the film, and a wonderful gallery of supporting characters who add to the offbeat flavour of the material. As with many Nordic caper films of late, there is a wonderful mix of bloody violence and black humour, especially here as the hapless members of the skinhead gang meet some unexpected deaths.
There is a distinct touch of whimsy about the film, and also a cartoonish quality to some of the outrageous flashback sequences. There are some uncomfortable laughs throughout the film, as well as some belly laughs. Director Felix Herngren (a veteran of tv and commercials, etc) seems aware of the absurd nature of the material, but unfortunately he misjudges the pacing at times, and his handling of the material becomes a little heavy handed when a more gentle touch is required. Several sections in the middle of the film become bogged down and lack the invention and energy of other sections. And the way Herngren moves between the two narrative strands is sometimes a little jarring.
And for some reason some of the dialogue is in English. While it may not be to everybody’s tastes, there is still a lot to enjoy in this quirky and offbeat Swedish comedy, which has been very popular at the local box office.