My Life as a Dog (Mitt liv som hund) [DVD]
Director : Lasse Hallström
Screenplay : Lasse Hallström & Reidar Jönsson & Brasse Brännström & Per Berglund (based on the novel by Reidar Jönsson)
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 1985
Stars : Anton Glanzelius (Ingemar), Tomas von Brömssen (Gunnar), Anki Lidén (Ingemar’s Mother), Melinda Kinnaman (Saga), Kicki Rundgren (Ulla), Lennart Hjulström (konstnären), Ing-Marie Carlsson (Berit)
Coming-of-age stories are always tricky, bordering as they do on triviality and tunnel-vision melodrama, which is what makes Lasse Hallström’s My Life as a Dog (Mitt liv son hund) all the more astonishing. Taking place in Sweden in the late 1950s, it chronicles a year in the life of precocious 12-year-old Ingemar (Anton Glanzelius), who is sent to live with his relatives in an eccentric rural town in order to give his overburdened mother (Anki Lidén) a chance to recuperate from tuberculosis. Precocious kid. Sick mother. Eccentric relatives. It’s all the stuff of cliché, but through honest filmmaking and wonderfully real performance, Hallström makes it all feel fresh and new and, most importantly, moving. He treats the material with a light comic touch, allowing the laughs to flow naturally from the dramas of everyday life, both big and small.
One of the keys to the film’s success is the performance by Anton Glanzelius, an unknown child actor with great gifts who, surprisingly enough, did not go on to an acting career. Physically, he is perfect for the role, with his inquisitive, slightly devious eyes, pug nose, and ear-to-ear grin; he’s an imp you can’t help but like, even when his emotions and nervous tics get the better of him. Ingemar has a penchant for getting into trouble and making his life even more difficult than it already is, and he consoles himself by reading about tragedies that have befallen others, including a man impaled by a javelin while walking across a field and a daredevil who only clearled 30 of 31 buses with his motorcycle. But, most often, his mind drifts to Laika, a dog launched into space in 1957 by the Russians where it then starved to death alone.
Ingemar is much like Laika, except, rather than being launched into outer space alone, he is launched into odd circumstances not of his own making that will forever shape his life. After leaving his mother, he goes to live with his Uncle Gunnar (Tomas von Brömssen) and Aunt Ulla (Kicki Rundgren), both of whom work in a glass factory. Through them, Ingemar comes into contact with a number of oddballs who live in their town, including a dying old man who asks him to read the descriptions out of women’s underwear catalogs, an acrobat who can recite all the U.S. presidents while sitting on a unicycle atop a wire, and Gunnar’s bodacious coworker Berit (Ing-Marie Carlsson), who takes Ingemar with her to nude modeling sessions for a local sculptor on the brink of international fame. These characters border on caricature at times, but Hallström always pulls back at just the right moment, reminding us that, despite their oddities, these are all human beings with genuine feelings.
Within that framework, the story also follows Ingemar’s coming of age among his peer group. The most important aspect of this story is his relationship with Saga (Melinda Kinnaman), an athletically gifted tomboy who hides her gender so she can play on the soccer team with all the other boys. She and Ingemar like to box, and their playful sparring becomes a form of sexual awakening, although, as typically happens, Saga is ready to move to the next level before Ingemar, who is still so much a child. There are numerous touching-funny scenes between them (particularly when Saga enlists Ingemar’s reluctant help in trying to hide her budding breasts), and the trajectory of their relationship is natural and realistic, encompassing everything from buddy-buddy friendship, to sexual jealousy, to an eventual understanding of each other that transcends their differences.
Lasse Hallström has, of course, since moved on to Hollywood where he has made a number of (often overpraised) Oscar-friendly hits like The Cider House Rules (1999) and Chocolat (2000), although his best U.S. film by far is What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993), a film that, in tone and theme, very much reflects My Life as a Dog. In an interview conducted in 2002, Hallström admitted that every film he’s made since My Life as a Dog has had to compete with it, which shows just how close it was to his heart when he made it and why it stays in ours for so long after it’s over.
|My Life as a Dog Criterion Collection DVD|
|Distributor||The Criterion Collection / Home Vision Entertainment|
|Release Date||March 11, 2003|
| 1.66:1 (Anamorphic)|
My Life as a Dog is presented in a wonderful new high-definition anamorphic transfer taken from a 35mm interpositive. The film’s relatively cool palette of colors is well represented, and the image maintains a pleasing filmlike appearance without the intrusion of too much grain.
|Swedish Dolby Digital 1.0 Monaural |
The original monaural soundtrack, master at 24-bit from a 35mm magnetic track, is clean and clear.
| Video interview with Lasse Hallström |
In this 18-minute video interview recorded in the spring of 2002, Hallström talks about the early days of his career in the 1970s making music videos for ABBA and various aspects of the making of My Life as a Dog, including the process of adapting the source novel and the various cultural details that resonate so strongly with him and others who see it. Presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1).
Shall We Go to My or Your Place or Each Go Home Alone? 1973 film by Lasse Hallström
Original theatrical trailer
Essays by film critic Michael Atkinson and novelist Kurt Vonnegut
© 2003 James Kendrick