Saturday, 8 October 2011
My Life as a Dog
Starring: Anton Glanzelius, Tomas von Brömssen, Anki Lidén, Kicki Rundgren
By Alan Bacchus
This tender coming of age film represents the highwater mark for stories about children but made for adults. It also served to introduced Hollywood to Lasse Hallstrom and for good and bad give birth to a career of mature yet schmaltzy youth-oriented melodramas (Cider House Rules, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape). If you describe a movie as Lasse Hallstrom-like we all know what that means.
But aside from an early career directing ABBA videos, his feature career began in Sweden with this picture. Ingmaer is a typical 12 year old living in working class Swedish family doing everything he can to get in trouble. But with his mother slowly dying from TB, he’s sent to his Uncle’s house in the country to live for the summer. Naturally it’s devastating, not only leaving his mother, brother and his friends, but the countryside, a seemingly dull uneventful place devoid of excitement.
Once there Ingmar is ingratiated with a number of eccentric small town characters. The most endearing relationship is formed with the local bully Saga, but who eventually reveals to be a girl pretending to be a boy so she can box with other boys for sport.
Rather than a narrative of cause and effect scenes, the events in Ingmar life occurs like fractured memories of someone looking back on history with nostalgic reflection. This is the strength of the film, the ability of Hallstrom to truly convey the complexities of youth with the filter of adulthood. Hallstrom delicately moves us through broad silliness to strong emotional drama without ever making us feel manipulated or jerked around.
Connecting Ingmaer's outlook on these events is his dreamy voiceover which relates his trauma with that of the poor dog Laika who who sent into space by the Russians in 1957. The metaphor of Laika leaving home against his will is sharp. Ingmar compares the cruelty of allowing Laika to literally starve to death over course of her journey in space to his own banishment. The extremity of this comparison is comical but relatable from a child’s point of view.
The warm earth-tones of Jörgen Persson’s cinematography and Lasse Westfelt’s production design rounds out the wistful and poignant reflections of youth. My Life as a Dog rightfully sits next to comparable masterpieces as The 400 Blows and Mon Oncle Antoine.
My Life as a Dog is available on Blu-Ray from The Criterion Collection