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MOVIE REVIEW
The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (2014)

When looking back of a century’s worth of escapades in a work of art, the temptation is irresistible to put your hero at the center of the action. But a lot of that depends on who your hero is. When you have a lovable, good-hearted dunce like Forrest Gump at the center, you have an international smash hit and the inability to look at a box of chocolates in the same way ever again. But when you have a murdering pyromaniac at the center of your comedy, then unfortunately much, much more than a spoonful of sugar is needed to send that medicine down.

We meet Allan Karlsson (Robert Gustafsson) shortly before his 100th birthday, when he revenges himself on the fox who killed his beloved cat by rigging his henhouse with explosives. Packed off to the local nursing home and awaiting a centenary party he doesn’t want, he obeys the movie’s title and buys a ticket to a small town with only the change in his pocket. However he absentmindedly walks off with a suitcase a scary biker asks him to mind and after several “Weekend at Bernie’s”-esque adventures and unbelievable coincidences, ends up on the run with Julius the train enthusiast (Iwar Wiklander), Benny the perpetual student (David Wiberg) and Gunilla the fearless animal lover (Mia Skäringer). Except the scary biker has a gang, who are all being menaced over the phone by a cockney gangster (Alan Ford). So obviously Allan and his chums leave a trail of hilariously murdered corpses in their wake — including one who has the bad luck of being exploded by a suicide bomber in an African market after he is already dead.

Think that’s in dubious taste? Well, as a young man, Allan’s only pleasure is blowing things up. This talent for explosions and accidentally murdering people takes him to the International Brigades (where he saves Francisco Franco’s life), the Manhattan Project (where he tells J. Robert Oppenheimer how to build the nuclear bomb) and to Camp David (where he’s busy spying on Ronald Reagan for Mikhail Gorbachev, or perhaps it’s the other way around). It all plays as a jolly comedy, even when severed heads are landing on the hoods of cars and people are being shot in a Soviet gulag, and the audience at the 26th Galway Film Fleadh laughed in all the places they were supposed to.

The movie is based on a well-loved novel by Jonas Jonasson, which means director Felix Herngren is not solely to blame for the material. The present-day sequence with the suitcase and the bikers could have been a complete movie in itself, where the four most hapless outlaws you’ve ever met manage to hold their own. There also should have been much more of Gunilla’s heartbroken biker ex-boyfriend (Gustav Deinoff) and the other bikers trying to console him while committing their dastardly deeds. But by interleaving this with the historical elements, the jolliness turns to ash in our mouths. In 100 years Allan expresses not a flicker of interest in anyone; and self-evidently neither women nor men have any sexual interest in him. Yet we’re meant to think that this is an uplifting romp celebrating the twilight days of an old rogue’s life — a life completely without love, except for a cat. And then we come back to the hilarious sight of a man, covered in dynamite, blowing himself up in an African market for laughs.

Unless that is the point: that our society in the West — from Sweden to beyond — is so numb to the atrocities all around us that we see them as funny. That a life focused solely on destroying things, empty of love, is one worth celebrating in books and films. That the human kindness of a woman buying Allan his choice of birthday cake, which sends him out of that window in the first place, is a decision to be mocked.

Fine. The movie looks and sounds great. Göran Hallberg’s cinematography shows Sweden has never had a sunnier summertime; and Matti Bye’s music cues us to enjoy ourselves rather than think too hard. Sven Lönn is positively heroic as the dumbest criminal in history; the aging makeup on Mr. Gustafsson isn’t terrible — and that’s without mentioning the elephant. But if we want our stories to glorify an angel of death as a hero, then we truly don’t know what we’re gonna get.

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