By Ray Bennett
BERLIN – An oddball comedy with criminal undertones, Hans Petter Moland’s “A Somewhat Gentle Man” follows a mild-mannered convict as he gets out of jail seeking mostly a quiet life but possibly also vengeance against the man who testified against him.
Played for laughs drawn from characters rather than funny lines, the Norwegian film is a charmer with Stellan Skarsgard for once in a role worthy of his attention. Although a little long for its own good and with a score that’s too bouncy by half, it’s the kind of film that sneaks up on you and leaves a warm smile. It should do very well in international markets and festivals will line up to offer applause.
Given a friendly farewell by a prison guard, Ulrik (Skarsgard) walks out a free man after serving 12 years and goes looking for a job and a place to live. He’s a slow-moving man who appears happy to go along to get along and soon he’s got a spare basement pad and work as an auto mechanic.
He owes his old crime boss Jensen (Bjorn Floberg) for making sure his ex-wife and son received money regularly while he was inside, however, and the man wants payback. Killing the snitch that put him away will settle his account.
But the folks around him turn out to be more complicated than they first appeared and his easygoing manner only gets him in deeper. For one thing, bulky with thinning hair that makes a long but lank ponytail, Ulrik is catnip to the ladies. His landlady (Jorunn Kjellsby) is a homely creature but eager for a roll in the hay when she serves him a meal most evenings.
Even his ex-wife (Kjersti Holmen) offers a quickie when he goes to visit and after he sorts out the wife-beating ex-husband of the garage clerk (Jannike Kruse), she takes him home to her bed.
Ulrik’s main interest is in seeing his estranged son, now a grown man (Jan Gunnar Roise) with a pregnant wife (Julia Bache Wiig) who wants nothing to do with her ex-con father-in-law.
Director Moland and screenwriter Kim Fupz Aakeson take a leisurely stroll around their central character and his attempts to be gracious to everyone make him increasingly endearing.
Kjellsby is a riot as a worn-out woman who takes her sexual pleasures where she can find them and despite her unfortunate appearance becomes an enthusiastic and joyful bed partner.
Floberg’s character remains dangerous even though he’s an eccentric bird with a sidekick (Gard B. Eidswold) that he casually abuses in very amusing ways.
Best of all is Skarsgard, who uses his heavy body and seen-it-all eyes to portray a man whose acceptance of the way the wind blows can give way to sudden and matter-of-fact brutality. His face also lights up in delighted bemusement when he realizes now and then that he really hasn’t seen it all.
Venue: Berlin International Film Festival; In Competition; Sales: TrustNordisk; Production company: Paradox; Cast: Stellan Skarsgard, Bjorn Floberg, Jorunn Kjellsby, Jannike Kruse, Gard B. Eidsvold, Jan Gunnar Roise, Njorn Sundquist, Julia Bache Wiig; Director: Hans Petter Moland; Screenwriter: Kim Fupz Aakeson; Producers: Stein B. Kvae, Finn Gjerdrum; Director of photography: Philip Ogaard; Production designer: Gert Wibe; Music: Halfdan E; Costume designer: Caroline Satre; Editor: Jens Christian Fodstad; No rating, 107 minutes.
This review appeared in The Hollywood Reporter.