Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Director: Felix Herngren
Producer: Felix Herngren, Malte Forssell, Henrik Jansson-Schweizer, Patrick Nebout
Screenwriter: Felix Herngren, Hans Ingemansson
Also starring: Ralph Carlsson
With echoes of Forrest Gump and Zelig, this jaggedly funny Swedish adventure traces the life of a centenarian who interacts with key figures throughout the 20th century. But this isn't a heartwarming slice of sentimentality; it's a blackly comical exploration of humanity's obsession with destruction. Although everything is played with such a silly sense of humour that it feels rather lightweight.
The title character is Allan (Robert Gustafsson), who has been obsessed with explosives since he was a young boy. Orphaned at 10, his passion for blowing things up leads him into the Spanish Civil War, where he gets to know General Franco. He then goes on to help Oppenheimer develop the A-bomb and works as a double-agent during the Cold War. Now on his 100th birthday, he's still on the prowl, breaking free from a party at his nursing home and going on the run. He steals a suitcase full of cash from violent thugs (Jens Hulten and Sven Lonn) who chase him, as does a nosey but exhausted cop (Ralph Carlsson). Along the way he teams up with a bored retiree (Iwar Wiklander), an indecisive academic (David Wiberg) and an elephant-rescuing activist (Mia Skaringer).
While recounting this wildly ridiculous romp, filmmaker Felix Herngren continually flashes back to key events from Allan's life, as he interacts with the likes of Stalin, Einstein, Truman, Reagan and Gorbachev, shifting the course of human history in the process, generally without even noticing what's happening around him. Since it's played as a fable, everything is as wildly contrived as it needs to be, packed with coincidences and some very silly slapstick. It's shot and edited with lively wit, and the script is a riot of unexpected humour, big laughs and charming sentiment. Intriguingly, the comedy is underscored with a serious theme about how carelessly men play around with their ability to destroy each other.
Thankfully, none of this is heavy-handed. Indeed, the film's darker issues are almost sidelined by outrageously colourful characters and the wacky gyrations of the meandering plot. Gustafsson is terrific in the title role, especially in the younger years when his face isn't buried under prosthetic make-up. He perfectly captures the freewheeling, haphazard trajectory of Allan's life as he inadvertently fuels or diffuses a series of critical historical conflicts. So it feels somewhat odd that the script completely removes Allan's sexuality from the story, because that might have added a more personal touch. Still, Allan is a remarkably endearing man-child, and the biting Scandinavian humour makes the film thoroughly entertaining. It also can't help but remind us that no matter how hard we try to understand it, human history is essentially a series of random events faced by people who have no idea what they're doing.