The One about Lasse Hallstrom’s “My Life as a Dog”

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Filmmaker Lasse Hallström is probably best know as the director behind the music videos of Swedish disco group ABBA but Hallström is also known for several major hits such as “Chocalat” (2000), “The Cider House Rules” (1999), “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993) and most recently for directing “Hachi: A Dog’s Tale” (2009).  But in 1985, Lasse Hallström was known for his Swedish film “My Life as a Dog” (Mitt liv som hund), a film based on the novel by Reidar Jonsson.

The film was won various awards in different countries, including the USA winning the 45th Golden Globe Awards for “Best Foreign Language Film” and was nominated for an Academy Award for “Best Director” and “Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium”.

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When you watch films about one’s childhood, more often there is a banality in these coming-of-age films.

Too many tend to incorporate a Hollywood style that has too much of a similarity of past films, but when you look for reality, there are films that feel realistic and you find yourself moved by it.

I have to say that “My Life as a Dog” is one of those films.  A touching and yet heartbreaking coming-of-age film from filmmaker Lasse Hallström that resonates deeply with viewers as it gives us a perspective of a young boy who loses his family and like his own dog and the Soviet dog who died in space, Lakia, the pain he feels of being unwanted.  But also in someway, feeling like he is no different from a dog who is placed in the kennel or in outerspace with no one to love or care for them.

This is a genuine feeling for any young child who loses their family, especially their parent(s) but what makes “My Life as a Dog” so entertaining is showcasing the purity of a child but also learning about “grown-up” things through the adults.

In the beginning, we see Ingemar and his best friend, a girl, who establish this bond that they will be together…forever.  And to showcase their bond, they tend to hug and hold each other under a bridge while the train goes by.  We see another situation of the purity of Ingemar as Saga, the tomboy is growing breasts and she tells Ingemar to help her wrap her chests, so she can continue to be involved in sports and be treated just like the guys.

Ingemar doesn’t look at these girls sexually, to him…they are just normal young people his age that he plays with.  But at the same time, we see how he is thrusted into this new world where he sees all these glassmakers (including his uncle) gawking at the blonde beauty who works at the glass factory.  The woman asks Ingemar to accompany her while she poses nude for a sculptor (granted, he is kept in another room), but the only questions he asked by his uncle is if he saw anything.  Of course, the curiosity of a child of being asked such a thing, “Why am I being asked such a question… Should I be looking for something?”.

He is also asked by the elder that lives in the basement of his uncle’s home to read a lingerie catalog.  Once again, for young Ingemar, he doesn’t know why he is reading these to the adults but it’s those questions that start to peak his curiosity.

Needless to say, it’s a situation that leads to Ingemar trying to find out more about why older men are into the body of an older woman and these are quite interesting “coming-of-age” moments during the film.

But of course, the film is not about a child learning about sex, it’s a film about him slowly learning how life is difficult because he compares himself to his dog Sickan who is taken away from him and the family and is supposedly staying at a kennel (when in truth, it’s probably being killed) or Lakia, the dog that the Soviets put into space.  Is there anyone caring for these animals?  Or are they just displaced by humanity that no one cares about them.

And in Ingemar’s case, he feels unwanted.  He is too young to understand his mother’s sickness but in his mind, he feels that he may have contributed to her death because of him getting into trouble.  But it’s him learning how no one in the family wants him to live with him.  His uncles don’t want him living in the same house and he is forced to live with an elderly woman who is lonely.

Needless to say, for a young boy, being separated from your mother and brother and the dog you love and now pretty much living away from family is difficult for any young boy to comprehend and I found those scenes t be quite heartbreaking but emotionally, the efficacy of the film is due to the talent of young Anton Glanzelius to showcase that purity of a child, the not knowing what will come next and needless to say, Lasse Hallström definitely found the right boy for the role.

With that being said, it’s important to note that some viewers may have a problem with a scene that involves Saga (the 12-year-old girl) showing her breasts to Ingemar.  It’s not a sexual scene but if shown in America, you have no doubt in your mind that today’s film censors would have a problem with it.  Needless to say, I figured this should be mentioned for viewers who may be sensitive to it.

Overall, “My Life as a Dog” is a fantastic coming-of-age film that doesn’t fit into the banality of similar type of films.  The performance by the young Anton Glanzelius was wonderful and also the direction and choice made by director Lasse Hallstrom on what to focus on in the screenplay based on Reidar’s novel (as the novel from what I have heard is quite dark).

Make no doubt about, “My Life as a Dog” is one of the better coming-of-age films out there. Touching, heartbreaking and real…”My Life as a Dog” is highly recommended!


 

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Dennis A. Amith