One of the great pleasures of foreign cinema is that you can see films that would never find financing or the means of production within the states. Certainly, there are plenty of rogue indies and inspired risk-takers in domestic cinema, but the budget/imagination ratio is usually tilted heavily one way or the other. By imagination I mean the ability to envision a movie in a way few others would, not the ability to imagine a movie that everybody expects to see. The One-Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window & Disappeared is a Swedish movie that is in limited theatrical release in the United States. The film, directed by Felix Herngren, was the third highest grossing Swedish film of all-time. Only the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo movies have brought in more box office.
You could make the assumption that the title says everything you need to know about the movie, but that would be a mistake. Allan Karlsson (Robert Gustafsson) is the one-hundred year old who does climb out a window, but it’s not a spoiler to say he does everything but disappear. As the film unspools, we see that Allan Karlsson has always found his way, sometimes like a fool, into the most interesting situations. Some have compared this movie to Forrest Gump and that is a fair comparison. Like Gump, Allan finds himself in plenty of historical moments. Even if the history he recalls doesn’t quite line up with the one generally accepted among educated people. His part in the fall of the Berlin Wall is pleasingly absurd.
I haven’t seen Forrest Gump in quite awhile, but I don’t remember it being half as dark as The One-Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window & Disappeared. The influence of the Coen Brothers is noticeable, and it also somehow recalls The Grand Budapest Hotel. Neither aesthetic defines Herngren’s work, but there moments and scenes which would be at home in those films. There is some considerable violence in this movie too, including a Monty Python-esque body explosion. Young Allan has a thing for explosives and this gets him into trouble on more than one occasion. Others around him are less fortunate.
Felix Herngren has developed his technique on Swedish television, while also performing in both television and film. In this film he demonstrates a sharp sense of how comedic film works. Sometimes the framing is all you need, sometimes it’s an edit, often it is a small expression caught in the background. Because of this, the film will fare the best with a captive theater audience as opposed to the distracted home video crowd. This isn’t a wide screen masterpiece, but it does reward the attentive viewer. The admonishment to keep the visuals simple in comedy film is followed to the letter here. Herngren’s film technique never tries to overpower the visual jokes and precise timing. For this alone, domestic audiences might find this film a relief from the louder and louder style of Hollywood comedy.
Generally, a box office smash abroad has about a 85% chance of being remade by Hollywood for multiplex audiences. Although a Swedish sequel is in the works, I don’t see any studio getting too far with an adaptation. Hollywood believes comedy is a young person’s game. They believe the audience for this kind of movie wouldn’t support the gargantuan budget of studio filmmaking. Unfortunately, they are probably right.
Although, for that matter, I can’t see popcorn audiences lining up to see a movie with jokes about the Spanish Civil War. All the more reason to see this movie while you can and enjoy a glimpse into a fabled land far across the ocean. Strange and wonderful things can happen there that never involve a box of chocolates.