Forrest Gump meets Zelig in an absurd and ridiculous Swedish farce-cum-road movie about a centenarian’s accidental involvement in major events of 20th century world history and contemporary criminal adventures.
Twentieth Century Boy by Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
On his 100th birthday, Allan Karlsson escapes from his retirement home by climbing through a window dressed in his dressing gown and slippers, while his carers are still trying to count the candles on his birthday cake. It’s the start of an absurd series of peripatetic adventures that involve a suitcase with a fortune in stolen money, a frozen body, pursuit by both a neo-Nazi criminal gang wanting their money back, a hapless detective, a snowballing collection of oddball travelling companions and an elephant.
Obsessed with blowing things up with dynamite since he was a boy, Allan tells his life story in a series of flashbacks to the companions he picks up on his escapade – another feisty elderly man and a perpetual student, whose car they hijack, and eventually a love interest for him. And it turns out that this apparently ineffectual and distracted old man of no importance – according to him – actually led a very eventful and celebrity-filled life, present at key moments that changed the course of world history.
His skill with explosives enabled him to infiltrate the lives of some of the 20th century’s most prominent figures – in Spain in the Spanish Civil war, first he was blowing up bridges on the side of the Republicans and then accidentally saved the life of Franco. He partied with Stalin in Moscow; in America he advised the father of the atomic bomb, Robert Oppenheimer, on the Manhattan project; got drunk on tequila with President Harry S Truman; was imprisoned in the Russian gulags with Albert Einstein’s less-able brother Herbert; and disingenuously became a US-Russian double agent during the Cold War. Was there no world event this man was not present at, with the story’s correspondingly satirical take on international relations? And now he’s on the loose again…
Meanwhile, in the present day, pursued by a neo-Nazi biker gang and a police detective always just too far behind, Allan and his merry gang sail blithely along having the time of their lives, finally ending up in luxury in Bali. Phew! Threats can’t faze him – “If you want to kill me, you’d better hurry, because I’m a hundred years old.” Allan is played by Robert Gustafsson, Sweden’s top comedian and actor, who manages his character’s 80-year-plus age range with the aid of skill and prosthetics. Also noteworthy are his unlikely travelling companions Julius (Iwar Wiklander) and Benny (David Wilberg).
Directed by Felix Herngren, the film is based on the hugely popular Swedish comic novel of the same name by Jonas Jonasson. The absolute opposite of Nordic noir, it’s all so ludicrous, somehow it can’t help being laugh-out-loud funny. When I saw it, the whole screening room rocked with laughter even though it was first thing on a Sunday morning, and I hadn’t laughed so much in ages. Yet in hindsight, it’s hard to explain why. Perhaps it was the disarming, cumulative effect of a combination of deadpan black comedy, witty dialogue and one ridiculous slapstick event after another. Go with it, suspend your disbelief and you should find it very funny too. Enjoy. And that’s the point of it, I think.
The 100-year-old-Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared is released on 4th July in the UK