'A Somewhat Gentle Man' Who Just Can't Say No

Stellan Skarsgard

hide captionGentle Persuasion: Stellan Skarsgard plays Ulrik, just released after a 12-year prison stint for murder. Once outside, Ulrik pretty much plays along with friends, family and his old criminal boss — even if it means intimate encounters of an excessively awkward kind.

Philip Oegaard/Strand Releasing

A Somewhat
Gentle Man

  • Director: Hans Petter Moland
  • Genre: Foreign Comedy
  • Running Time: 105 minutes

Not rated

With: Stellan Skarsgard, Bjorn Floberg, Bjorn Sundquist, Aksel Hennie

In Norwegian with English subtitles

Whatever he was when he began serving 12 years for murder, Ulrik — the monosyllabic hulk with the stringy ponytail who passes for a hero in the Norwegian film A Somewhat Gentle Man — emerges from prison an obedient fellow, if not a noticeably happy one.

So compliant is Ulrik (Stellan Skarsgard) that he dutifully unbuckles his belt to service three drab, frustrated women: his middle-aged landlady, the rumpled young secretary at his legit day job (in a car-repair shop with next to no customers) and his former partner, the mother of his straight-arrow of a now-grown son.

When said offspring turns the newly released Ulrik away because he poses a moral risk to his unborn grandchild, he slinks away without protest. And when Ulrik's thuggish former boss reels him back into the game — with orders to revenge himself on the snitch who helped put him away — the ex-con bends the knee.

You get the (overdrawn) picture: Ulrik has little self-respect and even less sense of his own agency, and the dreary freeway vista that greets him as he leaves jail in an icy wind seems to portend an earnest rehab psychodrama.

Except there's jaunty dance music playing on the soundtrack, along with occasional snatches of Patsy Cline, and with little further delay we find ourselves in the grip of a love-in-a-cold-climate black comedy so strenuously derivative of the brothers Coen and Kaurismaki that it might make you long for the gooey therapeutic promise of the opening scenes.

Director Hans Petter Moland's filmmaking shows a slick competence born of long experience making television commercials, and he has a capable writer of dialogue in screenwriter Kim Fupz Aakeson. But Moland has no grasp of the difference between mischievous provocation and an off-color visual joke.

Knut Jorgen Skaro, Gard B. Eidsvold, Stellan Skarsgard, Bjorn Floberg i i

hide captionUlrik's biddable ways lead him back to trouble when his former boss asks him to kill the man whose testimony put him in jail.

Philip Oegaard/Strand Releasing
Knut Jorgen Skaro, Gard B. Eidsvold, Stellan Skarsgard, Bjorn Floberg

Ulrik's biddable ways lead him back to trouble when his former boss asks him to kill the man whose testimony put him in jail.

Philip Oegaard/Strand Releasing

To tell the truth, neither do the Coens or Kaurismakis much of the time, but they do know how to be funny without coming off smug or dismissive of their lumpen characters. Moland invites us for a nasty snicker at some of the most unappetizing sex you ever saw onscreen — bitter, unprepossessing women in ugly underwear, begging for sex, har, har! — then rambles along without much of a plot or a point. The audience is left with the somewhat anxious pleasure of watching Skarsgard — who has made several other films with Moland, which if nothing else speaks to his loyalty — do his subtle best to engender a little sympathy for the hapless Ulrik.

But that's not saying much. With the best will in the world, all one can do is hang tight and wait for Ulrik to reach the limits of his tolerance, recognize
his true enemy and haul his carcass into action before riding into the sunset with the beatific smile of the self-actualized.

Or did I just make that up? All I remember is that sitting through this lamentable excuse for a movie was a lot like suffering through a long open-mic set at the Comedy Store — for the sake of a friend who has no idea how excruciatingly unfunny he is.

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