A boy and his brother don’t get along well. In order to let their ill mother rest, they’re separated and sent each one with their relatives.
subtitled in English

Director: Lasse Hallström
Writers: Reidar Jönsson (novel), Lasse Hallström
Stars: Anton Glanzelius, Tomas von Brömssen, Anki Lidén


It’s the eyes. Anton Glanzelius’s eyes glint with crazy combinations of intelligence, innocence and diabolical glee. Add pug-nose, spiky hair and shrubby eyebrows and you’ve got a Swedish imp with enormous screen appeal. Which only adds to “My Life as a Dog,” Lasse Halstrom’s well-constructed crowd-pleaser.

Glanzelius (we’ll just say Anton, okay?) plays Ingemar, a hyperintelligent 12-year-old trying to understand life and death — and Mom — in 1950s Sweden. He reads tales of spectacular fatalities with fascination. A grotesque javelin incident, a train crash, the motorcycle stuntman who cleared 30 (of 31) buses — Ingemar reads this stuff critically. “You have to compare all the time,” he says simply.

Ingemar is very close to his mother — but she’s suffering from tuberculosis and his intensity drains her flagging strength. The problem is, Ingemar seems to have the Midas touch in reverse. He tears the house up chasing his dog, gets into trouble at school, starts fires and can’t seem to hold a glass of milk vertically. He and the mutt are literally aggravating his mother to death.

When her illness takes a grave turn, Ingemar’s mother (Anki Liden) sends Ingemar and his older brother Eric away, Ingemar going to Uncle Gunnar in the rural village of Smaland. He meets what appears to be the cast of Fellini’s “Amarcord.” Old Mr. Arvidsson makes Ingemar read the frilly details from underwear catalogs. A trapeze artist called Karl-Evert recites the names of American presidents while performing. Dirty old men make glass bottles with breasts in the local factory. And buxom blonde Berit brings Ingemar along to her nude modeling session.

More significant, Ingemar meets Saga (Melinda Kinnaman), an athletic tomboy who hides her sex so she can box with the boys. A rivalry develops. Then Saga makes a pre-teen play for him, but Ingemar is uninterested. After running the gamut between love and enmity, the two eventually become friends. And Ingemar, for whom life is an unpredictable scenario of death and tragedy, needs the affection.

Director Halstrom has a deft touch. His scenes are adventures — there is almost always a surprise in the offing: Ingemar, climbing a roof to peep at Berit’s modeling session, tumbles through the skylight. A boxing match between Ingemar and Saga turns into a minor sexual awakening. A fight between him and his brother turns into a four-way screaming match with Mother and the dog.

Halstrom reinforces the evocation of spontaneity by encouraging the cast to improvise. The chemistry between the actors, particularly between Anton and Kinnaman, is sometimes magical.

-Desson Howe, Washington Post