Swedish with subtitles and English Narration
Rated R. Running time: 1 hour 54 min.
Our content ratings (1-10); Violence 6; Language 4; Sex/Nudity 2.
Our star rating (1-5): 4
Deliver me from my enemies, O my God;
protect me from those who rise up against me.
Deliver me from those who work evil;
from the bloodthirsty save me.
Even now they lie in wait for my life;
the mighty stir up strife against me.
For no transgression or sin of mine, O Lord,
for no fault of mine, they run and make ready.
Director Felix Herngren’s dark, droll comedy, so full of subdued humor, has won the hearts of Swedish movie-goers, and now is spreading laughter through the art house theaters of the rest of the world as well. Rightly compared to Forest Gump because its clueless hero, who loves to blow things up, mixes with famous leaders at seminal points in 20th Century history (General Franco, Robert Oppenheimer, Albert Einstein’s brother Herbert, Harry Truman, Joseph Stalin, and Ronald Reagan), it also contains elements of two other zany comedies, Zelig and Being There.
The film moves back and forth in time from the now 100-year-old Allan’s escaping from a retirement home and joining up with some eccentric characters to past episodes in his colorful life in the early and mid-20th Century.
Allan Karlsson (Robert Gustafsson) is the son of a revolutionary executed during the early 1920s by the Soviet government, so he is not a praying man. However, the “bloodthirsty” mentioned by the psalmist are certainly after the old man’s life, and the reason for their pursuit of him is due to an innocent rather than a deliberate transgression. While a 100th anniversary birthday party is being prepared for him at his retirement home, Allan, with a bathrobe over his clothes and slippers on his feet, climbs out his window and shambles off to the bus station. He asks to be taken as far as the loose change he lifts from his pocket will take him. When a tattooed thug in a motorcycle vest demands that he watch his suitcase while he uses the small bathroom, the bus arrives and Allan absently minded boards it still pulling the suitcase after him.
The bus has gone when the thug emerges. Breaking out in rage that both suitcase and old man are nowhere to be found, he gets in touch with his boss. There follows a series of cell phone calls during what turns out to be a long chase—and the boss in turn talks with the drug lord about the missing suitcase (though at first not revealing that it is missing). They all have good reason to be concerned—the suitcase has a lot more than Alan paid for his short bus ride; there are 50 million krona in it!
Left off at a tiny village, Alan is befriended by the rascally but kind-hearted retired train attendant Julius (Wiklander) who feeds and boards him. When the thug arrives and threatens Julius, Allan comes up from behind and hits his head with a mallet. Julius locks the unconscious man in a walk-in freezer. The next day they discover Julius had left the refrigeration on, so they pack the crook’s frozen body into a crate headed for a Persian Gulf state and hit the road. With Julius pumping the pair head down the train tracks on a handcar. Soon more tattooed thugs are dispatched by the boss, but by now the two fugitives have picked up companions: Benny (David Wiberg), a mid-twenties scholar who is “almost” a veterinarian and a half-dozen other professions he has studied; and lonely Gunilla (Mia Skäringer), who lives in the country with a pet elephant. Also pursuing them, though not as ardently as the crooks, is a police officer, called in by the worried retirement home staff.
In between escapades Allan, speaking English, lets us in on his past brushes with history and its molders. He is not totally aware of his impact—such as his talk with Oppenheimer that leads the scientist to the breakthrough for the atomic bomb—and the same goes for the dispatch of the crooks in gruesome ways one by one. Allan simply accepts things as they come, which was the advice given him by his mother when he was a boy. And yes, the aforementioned elephant is an agent for the demise of one of the bad guys.
The story is totally absurd, but compared to the inane US comedies so obsessed with sex and bodily waste, it is a breath of fresh air. Our Allan has no interest in sex because during the 30s when the pseudo-science of human eugenics briefly was in vogue, he was subjected to an operation designed to insure that “degenerates” would be unable to reproduce. If there is any moral point to this violent yet funny tale, it would seem to be that God, or Fate, protects certain innocents from “the bloodthirsty.”
This review with a set of discussion questions will be in the August issue of Visual Parables.