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VIFF 2014 review – The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

Tuesday 07th, October 2014 / 17:53
By Paris Spence-Lang

Proving that Swedish humour is alive and well

VANCOUVER — Condom campaigners, Einstein’s idiot brother, elephants, and lots of explosions: The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared has as many plot points as its name has words. And it seems to be working: director Felix Herngren’s adaptation of the titular novel by Jonas Jonasson is the highest-grossing Swedish film in history. But dark comedy is notoriously untranslatable, and many critics are wondering if the film will leave Canadian audiences baffled.

The 100-Year-Old Man begins in a nursing home on dynamite expert Allan Karlsson’s 100th birthday. As the candles on his cake are carefully counted, Karlsson slips out his window to go on one last adventure, and—after accidentally stealing 50 million krone from a gang—he boards a bus to nowhere. Karlsson unwittingly flees from the gang, and then joins forces with other unlikely heroes (elephant included). Along the way, Karlsson reminisces on his most treasured moments, such as his Cold War spying days, the time he helped invent the atomic bomb, and the parties he had with dictators such as Franco and Stalin.

Initially, Karlsson seems nothing more than an eccentric fellow who just likes to blow things up, but no amount of extraordinary backstory can conceal his lack of real character development. Throughout the film, Karlsson’s primary traits—ignorance, a lack of empathy, and a touch of alcoholism—are showcased constantly, beginning with a child Karlsson accidentally blowing a man up in front of his mistress; Karlsson merely complains about the woman’s screaming, then deems the test-explosion a success. These traits grow to such an extent that by the end of the movie he has become entirely unsympathetic.

While overall quite entertaining, and with some truly hilarious moments, it is still hard to see The 100-Year-Old Man as anything more than a less-charming Forrest Gump. While most of the jokes do manage to translate, those who have a hard time reading humour through subtitles should leave this one alone. That being said, fans of dark comedy will love this film, Allan and all.

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