For the first half of July, the Watershed is bringing Bristol something a little bit different. We are well used to being offered dark, brooding, serious Scandinavian films: Let the Right One In, The Hunt, Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy. The 100 Year Old Man…, however, offers us refreshingly silly, funny cinema from Sweden.
The story details, in a roundabout way, the life and times of centurion Allan Karlsson, a pyromaniac with a viciously dry wit, who escapes from a retirement home to have quite an adventure. We follow Allan’s escapades as he accidentally gets his hands on a suitcase full of money belonging to a violent biker gang, and is subsequently chased across the Swedish countryside by both the gang and the police.
Interspersed with this action is the backstory of Allan’s life which, much like that of Forrest Gump, sees our hero stumble into a mental asylum, fight in the Spanish Civil War, save General Franco’s life, play an integral part in the Manhatten Project, get picked up by Josef Stalin and sent to a gulag, and eventually work as a double agent during the Cold War.
The film’s integrity relies mainly on it’s lead character, and thankfully he is a remarkably sympathetic character. Considering he is an alcoholic involved at various stages in the construction of the atom bomb, saving the life of a fascist dictator, blowing up a neighbour and murdering an assailant by locking him in a freezer room, he comes across as a harmless, funny elderly gentleman. It is perhaps an interesting aspect of our society that no matter how vile an elderly person’s actions, the fact that they are forgetful, shuffling and mumbling makes them somehow more likeable.
Much like Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, this film is a fast-paced caper, and it makes for a fun cinema experience. It involves a fair suspension of disbelief, particularly in the scenes featuring an elephant roaming the Swedish countryside, but it contains several genuinely funny moments. Particularly amusing is the scene where Karlsson, acting as a double agent, accidentally records Ronald Reagan’s conversation with his gardener, instructing him to “not tear down the wall” as it would allow garden pests in. Mikhail Gorbachev, listening to the recording, thinks that the wall in question is the Berlin Wall, and promptly instigates the downfall of Communism, just to piss Reagan off.
With stunning images of the Swedish landscape, witty lines, imaginative storylines and identifiable characters, Director Felix Herngren charms the audience throughout. A film well recommended for a soggy Summer night.