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Scandinavian comedy offers a wild ride through history

Dir:

OFF THE WALL: Robert Gustafsson plays a centenarian with a penchant for escaping out of windows.
OFF THE WALL: Robert Gustafsson plays a centenarian with a penchant for escaping out of windows.

Felix Herngren

With: Robert Gustafsson, David Wiberg

Runtime: 114 minutes

WITH nary a thought for the poor devils who have to design the posters, there is a long tradition of movie titles that go on and on.

Some do so successfully, the rhythms even making their way into the language, as in the oft adapted Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex … But Were Afraid to Ask.

Others, such as To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar, are just asking for trouble in the ticket queue.

Anyone who has read Jonas Jonasson's comic novel will have no trouble remembering the name of this adaptation from Felix Herngren.

Indeed, so devoted do they tend to be to this tale of a pensioner passing his way, Zelig-like, through modern history they could probably use the original Swedish title (Hundraaringen som klev ut genom fonstret och forsvann, since you ask).

In any language, it is a quirky title for a pleasantly bonkers tale, albeit one that, like the title and the century it charts, goes on too long.

The centenarian given to climbing out of windows is Allan Karlsson, played by Robert Gustafsson.

We first meet Allan (a much underused name for a hero) when he is living on his own in an isolated farm, his only trouble coming from a pesky fox who terrorises the chickens.

His explosive method of dealing with the problem duly lands him in a care home, where nothing more is expected of him but to turn up to meals on time and generally be a good, rule-abiding resident.

As we see during the next 114 minutes, someone clearly has not read Allan's file.

Deciding he has better things to do than stick around for the birthday party the home is throwing for him, Allan exits via the window and makes his way to the train station.

From there, following a mix-up over a suitcase, a comedy of errors begins as the owners of the case full of cash try to retrieve it, while Allan goes on his way.

Given that the pursuers are a gang of violent, drug dealing Swedish thugs working for a British Mr Big (Alan Ford), it soon becomes obvious Allan has doddered into a heap of trouble.

Once again, Allan is being underestimated.

As we see from flashbacks, such has been his action-packed life and giddy times, drug dealers are but specks of dust to be brushed off at his leisure.

Throughout his life, Allan has a tendency to stumble into world-forming events, meeting global figures along the way.

The Spanish Civil War, the invention of the atomic bomb, Stalin's Russia, Paris '68: Allan has encountered them all and lived to (not) tell the tale.

The device of an innocent passing through history is one that has been used before in the movies, notably by Woody Allen in 1983's Zelig, and Forrest Gump.

In those cases, special effects were used to insert the character into newsreel footage; here the technique is more basic, with lookalike actors used and the audience left to guess which event is being referenced.

It still works, though, and there are some pretty good jokes too.

The humour in Herngren's film is very Scandinavian, in as much as it swings wildly between bleak (we find out young Allan spent time in an asylum as a child, for example), deadpan, and silly.

Like all things Scandinavian, it should find a fit with Scottish audiences.

In keeping with the spirit of the novel, there are fantastic visual surprises, too.

Nothing and no-one is quite as one expects them to be, least of all Allan.

And if he overstays his welcome more than a little, it is not too much of a price to pay for a film, and a lead, that tries so hard to be entertaining.

It's a mad, mad, mad, mad Swedish world all right, and you are welcome to it.

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