Based on a popular autobiographical novel by Reidar Jo nsson, My Life as a Dog is a wonderful film about navigating the difficulties of childhood. Director Lasse Hallström’s breakout film was nominated for two Oscar Awards and the winner of the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
Anton Glanzelius plays Ingemar, a hyperintelligent 12-year-old trying to understand life, death, and his much adored mom (Anki Liden) in 1950’s Sweden. He reads tales of terrible fatalities with a strange fascination. A grotesque javelin incident, a train crash, the motorcycle stuntman who cleared 30 (of 31) buses—for a young boy, Ingemar reads all these stories with an amazingly critical eye. “You have to compare all the time,” he says simply.
Ingemar doesn’t understand why his mother isn’t recovering from her illness. When he gets sick, it usually takes a couple of days before he is up and running again, but his mother has been sick for a long time. Lately, she’s also started losing weight, though it is probably the food, not the tubercu…not the illness with the difficult name.
With her condition worsening, Ingemar’s mother is forced to send Ingemar and his older brother away, Ingemar going to Uncle Gunnar (Tomas von Brömssen) and Aunt Ulla (Kicki Rundgren) in the rural village of Smaland, so that his mother can rest and get better. Upon arriving, Ingemar meets an odd cast of characters that might have stepped out of Fellini’s Amarcord. Old Mr. Arvidsson (Didrik Gustavsson) has a somewhat befuddled young boy read the sexy details out of lingerie catalogs. A trapeze artist called Karl-Evert recites the names of American presidents while performing. Men make glass bottles with breasts in the local factory. And buxom blonde Berit (Ing-Marie Carlsson) brings Ingemar along to her nude modeling session. No matter how odd they might be, all these adults keep an eye on Ingemar in their own strange way.
Ingemar also meets some kids his own age. Most significantly, is Saga (Melinda Kinnaman), an athletic tomboy who does everything she can to hide her breasts so she can box with the boys. A rivalry develops. As time passes, Saga makes a play for him, but Ingemar doesn’t really know what to do with it. After running the gamut between love and antagonism, the two eventually become friends. And Ingemar, whose life has been a confusing mix of happiness, tragedy, and death, could really use a friend.
Though My Life as a Dog was Anton Glanzelius’ first film, he’s an absolute natural in front of the camera. He totally embodies the characters wide-eyed fascination with life. He even displays a surprising talent for physical comedy, as the boy is so nervous he can’t raise a glass of milk to his lips. The young man’s performance is helped along by Lasse Hallström’s deft touch. Each one of his scenes play out like mini-adventures—there’s almost always a surprise somewhere: Ingemar, climbing a roof to peep at Berit’s modeling session, tumbles through the skylight. A boxing match between Ingemar and Saga turns into a minor sexual awakening.
While Hallström moved to Hollywood, and has had great success with films such as What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? The Cider House Rules, and Chocolat, for my money, My Life as a Dog remains his finest work to date.
Presented in the 1.66:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer from Criterion is simply striking. The image is as sharp as a tack, with no visible edge enhancement artifacts. Due to the films deliberately drab style, there isn’t much of a color palette, but what is on display comes through beautifully. Blacks are inky and contrast is well balanced. Film grain is handled wonderfully. Fans of this film should be very pleased with Criterion’s efforts.
The LPCM track supplied here isn’t a bombastic one, but it serves My Life as a Dog very well. This is a dialogue heavy movie, and all words are delivered in a clean, sharp manner. The accompanying score is also delivered with amazing clarity. I can’t imagine this film sounding any better than it does here.
English SDH subtitles are included.
We get the following special features:
- Trailer (3 min, 1080i) the original theatrical trailer for My Life as a Dog. In Swedish, with English subtitles.
- Lasse Hallstrom (19 min, 1080i) in this video interview, conducted in the Spring of 2002, director Lasse Hallstrom talks about his passion for cinema and work with ABBA, and remembers how My Life as a Dog came to be. In English and Swedish, with English subtitles where necessary.
- Shall We Go To My or Your Place or Each Go Home Alone? (1973)(53 min, 1080i). director Lasse Hallström was deeply influenced by the films of Milos Forman and John Cassavetes. In this film, made for TV, he tried to imitate their styles. In Swedish, with optional English subtitles. (53 min, 1080i).– Introduction to the film by director Lasse Hallström. In English, not subtitled. (2 min, 1080i).
- Booklet – an illustrated booklet featuring an essay by critic Michael Atkinson and an appreciation by the late author Kurt Vonnegut.