By Elias Savada.
“Being dead can have its advantages sometimes.”
That’s just one of the translated pieces of tossed off dialogue delivered in this Scandinavian smorgasbord of a comedy. No, Hundraåringen som klev ut genom fönstret och försvann (The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared), isn’t a zombie film, although it does center about a person of the close-to-death variety. A huge hit in Sweden when it arrived as a Christmas gift in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark back in December 2013, this quirky, whimsical life-spanning comedy has been playing off in an eclectic group of foreign territories (and, more recently, at a half-dozen U.S. film festivals, winning numerous audience awards) before it hits the American art house circuit this week, via Music Box Films, in an English-subtitled version.
Comedian Robert Gustaffson, in real life half the age of the main character, Allan Karlsson, is known in Sweden as one of its funniest people. He ambles through the film clad in heavy makeup, yet offering a light, comfortable journey for the viewer from the get-go, when his lightly cantankerous character does indeed climb out of a window at a Malmköping retirement home just before its staff (and media) arrive in search of the newly minted centenarian. It seems he likes to wander, especially after things that go snap, crackle, and boom.
Allan’s meager finances – a handful of coins – allows for a one-way bus ticket to Byringe, a backwater where he befriends Julius Johnsson (Imar Wiklander) an aging station attendant. The educationally challenged Allan, definitely not the brightest bulb on the planet, has brought along a heavy suitcase placed in his care by a dimwitted biker hoodlum who entrusted it to him while using the miniscule travel center bathroom in Malmköping. There’s nothing like skewering the crook’s specific orders to not let it out of his sight to add another plot element. There’s a load of money in the bag, so hoodlums, the police, and assorted passers-by get drawn into this ever escalating mad, mad microcosmic world.
Along the way, the screenplay (by Hans Ingemansson and director Felix Herngren, based on the best-selling novel by Jonas Jonasson) picks at Allan’s past. A revolutionary father killed in old Russia as he tried to warn the masses to use way oversized rubbers for birth control. An episode in which he befriends Spanish dictator General Francisco Franco after accidentally saving his life. A stint in America during World War II with the Manhattan Project (a big bomb project most endearing to the problem-solving Swede) that earns him numerous rounds of tequila shots with a soon-to-be-President Harry S. Truman. Not to be left out in the cold (as the flashbacks move into the 1950s), spies – Russian, American, drunken – come into play with the well-meaning and occasionally inspiring simpleton Allan, who plays all off against one another. There’s also Herbert Einstein, Albert’s idiot brother. And Stalin.
So, I’m thinking as the movie arrives at the knockabout midpoint of its two-hour length, where’s the kitchen sink in this story? Everything but. Probably in here somewhere, along with the oodles of cosmic coincidence. The cavalier method of getting the bad guys dealt with and the good folks in the clear may be totally unbelievable, but the antics continue.
While none of these flashbacks push the present-day story along, they do flesh out the bits and morsels of Allan’s weirdly absorbing personality via one revisionist tall tale after another, a la Forrest Gump. It doesn’t matter if any of these stories are realistic, but they do offer a lot of oversized fun for most audiences.
While Allan and Julius take to the road, marshaling a ride in the cramped car of Benny (David Wiberg) a nebbishy indecisive college student (almost a zoologist, almost a dietitian, “almost a lot of things”) with 920 college credits and no degree, an often flustered chief Inspector Aronsson (Ralph Carlsson) takes to the town’s radio waves with a misguided Allan Alert. Naturally, mayhem and death (the comic variety) ensue.
One of this road movie’s several casual stops is at a spit of a place called Sjötorp, which introduces the three men on the run to Gunilla (Mia Skäringer) and her pet, Sonja. An elephant. That’s almost a kitchen sink.
The atmosphere of the film is genially bizarre with some occasional hopped-up circus frantic moments tossed in, courtesy of editor Henrik Källberg’s cutting, while Göran Hallberg’s widescreen photography nicely captures the film’s generous dose of visual humor, with dabs of foreign locations (Hungary, Croatia, Thailand). The trumpet-tuba-clarinet, om-pah-pah score by Matti Bye (who appears briefly as a mental institution patient) adds to the big top atmosphere. After all, there is an elephant afoot.
Elias Savada is a movie copyright researcher, critic, craft beer geek, and avid genealogist based in Bethesda, Maryland. He helps program the Spooky Movie International Movie Film Festival, and previously reviewed for Film Threat and Nitrate Online. He is an executive producer of the new horror film German Angst and co-author, with David J. Skal, of Dark Carnival: the Secret World of Tod Browning.