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Non-Review Review: A Somewhat Gentle Man

This film was seen as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

A Somewhat Gentle Man was a very pleasant little surprise to catch on the last day of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival. It’s a delightfully dark Norwegian comedy about a man recently released from prison, trying to make his way in the world.

He's got snowhere to go...

We’re informed fairly early on that Ulrik has done a very bad thing. He killed a man. However, he went to prison, he served his time and he’s been released. Played by Stellan Skarsgard, Ulrik is something of a gentle lug. On his release, he’s presented with a bottle of brandy by a prison guard, and advised to put all this behind him and to keep moving forward.

So, the movie follows Ulrik as he tries to make his way in a world that is twelve years away from when he left it. A recurring joke has Ulrik repeatedly informed of where he can’t smoke a cigarette, reminding us of how much attitudes to tobacco have changed in the past decade. Still, Ulrik seems, from our time with him, a decent sort genuinely trying to make peace with the world.

A smokin' Scandinavian...

He tries to connect with his son, who is now starting a family of his own (and has told his wife that his father is dead, so Ulrik is “Uncle Ulrick”), but finds himself continually locked out. He finds himself protecting a co-worker from her psychotic husband, because it’s the decent thing to do. He also begins a sort of surreal love affair with his gruff no-nonsense land lady.

He’s such a gentle giant that, even as he’s a balding man with an eighties ponytail, Ulrik seems like some sort of surreal Scandinavian love god. Skarsgard plays the character as a decent sort who just goes along with whatever the world throws at him, and – in another recurring joke – often finds himself obliging these ladies mid-meal. He’s very obliging, often to try to do whatever he thinks is best – even if he can’t always balance them particularly well.

A hot shot dealer...

Problems arise, as they always do, when Ulrik finds his old gangster associates trying to draw him back into the cycle of violence. Jensen is a crime lord who used to keep Ulrik in his employ, but the twelve years have not been kind to the gangster – decrying that organised crime itself has been outsourced to various minorities within the country. Jensen’s operation has been dwindled by age and sickness and circumstance to pretty much just the dim-witted henchman Rolf, who sticks around to be Jensen’s butt monkey. Jensen wants Ulrik to kill the man who sent him to prison, but Ulrik is understandably reluctant.

Need a lift?

The movie is, much like its protagonist, genuinely charming and relatively benign. There’s a cheeky little sense of humour about everything, and I found myself laughing out loud quite frequently during the runtime. It helps that Skarsgard plays the lead role so well, seeming at once gentle and also more than a little exasperated. You really get a feel for Ulrik as his life weaves through these little dilemmas.

The movie’s narrative is one very typical of a modern crime film – it’s the story of a man looking for redemption in his later life, when he’s only ever lived a particular life. It’s an exploration about whether human nature can ever really change, or if we’re better to simply acknowledge our flaws rather than trying to keep them entirely suppressed. However, the old story is told with a cheeky warmth with stands in stark contrast to the snow-covered surroundings – and the sense of humour makes the story particularly engaging.

A room with a view...

It’s well made, with a smart script and sharp performances from its ensemble (but an especially strong central performance from its lead). I really enjoyed this dark Scandinavian comedy, which never takes itself too seriously – but also manages to offer us a pretty sympathetic and compelling lead character.

I don’t normally score my reviews, but the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival does give an “audience award” and asks the audience to rate the film out of four. In the interest of full and frank disclosure, my score is: 3.

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