MIFF Day 15: 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.


I saw this last night at the London Film Festival and I entirely agree with the review posted here. I was happy to see the comparison with Kaurismaki wasn't just in my head. We were lucky enough for the director to be in attendance for a Q&A, and to provide some more insight, he explained that he performed a major re-write of the ending, as the original was mawkish and saccharine. Apparently the area that the film was shot in is well known in Oslo as being a bleak, dilapidated hastily built post war neighbourhood. Considering how good this film was, it is pathetic that Hollywood wastes the money to make 30 of these films on each summer blockbuster.

Thanks for your comments greg! Particularly interesting regarding the ending because I found the current ending absolutely perfect, meaningful, understated and sweet while exactly avoiding being mawkish or saccharine so it's fascinating to know the director toned his original idea down. great to know people from australia to america to the UK are all tuning into the wavelength of this film.

I saw this film on Friday night. I got tickets simply because the screening time fit into my schedule. I was very excited when I realized this film stars Stellan Skarsgaard, he's been a huge favorite since Good Morning Mr. Wallenberg. I went in without any expectations, sort of just hung in there for the first 1/2 hour, then OMG! You are so right to compare this film with a Coen Bros but with heart and humility. Since the lack of heart and humility pretty much crosses the Coens off my list, this film hits a grand slam home run. I went to see this with a family member, and we have been laughing our heads off for two days now just thinking about film. Mr. Skarsgaard gives a awe inspiring subtle performance, pathos and dead pan, he's a big hearted comic genius.

Thanks for your review. I have an opportunity to see this at the upcoming Mill Valley Film Festival. You helped me make up my mind. So many films, so little time.... Oh, and I loved Stellan Skarsgard in Breaking the Waves.

Cheers for the comment! I'm glad you caught the film, it's a small, quiet gem that can easily slip through the cracks of a major festival and not get noticed.

I'm a huge fan of Kaurismäki's Proletariat Trilogy (Ariel, Match Factory Girl, Shadows of Paradise) so I ranked this film highly in my MIFF top 10. Truly a delight to watch!

I've always only been a mild fan of Kaurismaki. My love for this one really surprised me. I just felt an immense humanity present in it that was wonderful to behold. Good to hear other people are clicking in with it. I also forgot to mention how wonderful the music was. Contrasting the cold landscapes is a beautifully jaunty samba score as well as some great songs (Downunder by Men At Work, can you believe it?!)