MIFF Day 15: A Somewhat Gentle Man
A SOMEWHAT GENTLE MAN
A Somewhat Gentle Man begins with a man named Ulrik getting released from prison after a 12 year stint for murder (this was the second film I have seen at MIFF this year that has begun with a character being released from prison. It is a generic but very natural place to start a story. See Hudson Hawk or The Blue Brothers or countless more). Ulrik's only remaining connection to his past life is his affable gangster friend who immediately sets Ulrik up with a job, apartment and directions to take revenge on the man who was responsible for sending him to prison. For lack of any options Ulrik seems content with following this path until he begins to reconnect with his estranged son, who now has a partner and a child of his own on the way.
A Somewhat Gentle Man is a somewhat gentle film. Experienced Norwegian director Hans Petter Moland paces his film in a very measured manner. For the first half hour I actually felt it a bit too slow for its own good but around the half-way point things magically locked into place for me and I watched spellbound as this leisurely story played out.
Stellan Skarsgard is absolutely magnificent in the central role of Ulrik. Western audiences who are only familiar with his character bit parts in American productions will be blown away at his skill and the film is almost vital viewing for those who only know Skarsgard from films such as Pirates of the Caribbean, Angels and Demons & Mamma Mia. It really is one of the best pieces of acting I have seen all festival, showing off moments of subtle physical comedy alternating with a profound sense of loss. The moments when Skarsgard smiles in this film are extraordinarily moving.
Like I said, A Somewhat Gentle Man has a measured pace. Those familiar with the dry comedies of Kaurismaki and the like, will immediately lock in while others may take a little longer. Moland frequently gives his film the air of a Scandinavian Coen Brothers film except he builds a level of affection for his characters and a sense of heart and humanity that I have never found in the Coen's work. There is a great vein of black humour present though and one moment showing a man with two broken arms trying to hail a cab is worth the price of admission alone.
The turned out to be a wonderful surprise. Low-key, heart-warming and hilarious, this is a film that will sneak up on you. By the end there will be a wide smile on your face and the closing shot is one of the simplest yet most beautiful I have seen in quite a while. Highly recommended.