Come December, it seems the only adults who aren’t running around frantically trying to find the perfect tree are unmarried cinemaniacs and intellectuals who can afford to calmly ignore a religious holiday. So it follows logically that December is the right time for En ganske snill mann (“A Somewhat Gentle Man”), an original version Norwegian ex-con dramedy.
Ulrik (Stellan Skarsgard) has just been released from prison; he’s still so guarded that he hardly speaks. Which also means that he doesn’t argue. Women like him, even though he looks rumpled and has zero sense of romance or foreplay, probably because they understand him as he’s described in the film’s title – Ulrik is actually a pretty sweet man.
But his impenetrability means that we’re never sure whether he doesn’t care or whether he sees his actions as futile in an indifferent world. In fact, he seems wholly uninterested in the impact he might have. He simply wants to survive every day with his hide intact. He soon finds out, and the hard way, that the world is way too complicated to slide through without forming attachments. They happen, whether he wants them to or not.
And all of a sudden, Ulrik must navigate the churned waters of personal relationships. He finds someone who expects nothing. A woman who probably couldn’t explain why she seeks love after having been so bitterly disappointed. A woman whose needs make Ulrik suddenly realize where his priorities and his potential lie.
The increasingly complicated entanglements of En ganske snill mann threaten to drag Ulrik back into the muck of crime and brutal extortion, until he suddenly finds a sense of right and wrong independent of his environment and manages to hack through the Gordian knot. Life isn’t exactly all roses from then on, but Ulrik has found a center where before there was only a black hole.
En ganske snill mann, from Hans Petter Molland and scriptwriter Kim Fupz Aakeson, is subtle, laconic, funny and real: a tribute to that crusty, slightly scuffed Scandinavian love of faulty humans that might just help you reaffirm your faith in humanity in time for the holiday season.
En ganske snill mann | Directed by Hans Peter Molland (Norway 2010), with Stellan Skarsgard and Gard B. Eidsvold. Opens December 9.