Film Score: Halfdan E Cinematography: Philip Øgaard
Starring: Stellan Skarsgård, Bjørn Floberg, Gard Eldsvold and Jorunn Kjellsby
A Somewhat Gentle Man (En ganske snill mann) is very reminiscent of what Alexander Payne does in this country, and since he has directed some of my favorite films this film has definitely joined that list. Everyone in the film does a wonderful job with the deadpan humor and I don’t see how this can keep from being remade in the U.S., especially with all of the product that has been coming out of Scandinavia recently, from Insomnia which was based on the Norwegian film of the same name with Stellan Skarsgård, to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo which was originally a TV movie in Sweden, to the television series The Bridge which is based on a joint Swedish-Danish series. And there’s a lot more. This coming to the fore of Scandinavian art, even with most of it being co-opted by Hollywood, is still a great thing for that part of Europe, especially with American product getting so stale with the glut of super-hero and young adult films.
This film begins with a morose Stellan Skarsgård being released from prison after twelve years. The corrections officer gives him a bottle of booze and tells him to keep looking forward. Eventually he makes his way to a pub owned by a friend, and there he meets his old crime boss Bjørn Floberg and his muscle Gard Eldsvold. They’ve found the man who is responsible for sending Skarsgård to prison and they stake him out at his work. At the same time Skarsgård is living in the basement of Floberg’s sister, Jorunn Kjellsby, and working a new job as an auto mechanic for Bjørn Sundquist. All the men are decidedly past middle age and the bland, matter of fact way they go about their investigation is what gives the film its humor. Meanwhile Skarsgård’s is wife, who works at a burger joint, is still bitter but not above giving him a quickie in the kitchen, though his son, who calls him his uncle to his pregnant girlfriend, still has a sense of humor about the whole thing. But this is just the beginning, and the more involved things get the funnier the story becomes.
The emphasis here is really on the relationships, not only between Skarsgård and his crime boss but with his sister Kjellsby, as well as his mechanic boss’s manager, Jannike Kruse, not to mention his son and his ex-wife. The music by Danish composer Halfdan E is also pretty good at times. It’s not nearly as prevalent as Rolfe Kent’s scores for Alexander Payne, which is a shame, but the jaunty themes juxtaposed with the dark humor are the perfect accompaniment when they do pop up. Stellan Skarsgård is magnificent, as always, and watching him in an actual Scandinavian film is a real treat. At the Norwegian Film Awards, the Amandas, Skarsgård won the award for best actor, while director Hans Petter Moland won the award for best director at the Berlin Film Festival that year. Why it didn’t at least get nominated for best foreign film at the Oscars is beyond me, but then the Academy still hasn’t been able to embrace comedy in any meaningful way yet. A Somewhat Gentle Man is an absolutely great film, and if you like Alexander Payne, it’s something you absolutely have to see.