‘Try to imagine, if you will, a version of Forrest Gump if it were good‘ – MacDara Conroy on The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared
Think about Forrest Gump for a moment. Yes, I know, all that schmaltz is bringing you out in hives, but this will only take a moment. Now try to imagine, if you will, a version of Forrest Gump if it were good. Now you’re halfway towards picturing The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, based on a best-selling novel of the same name by Jonas Jonasson. Oh I know, that mouthful of a title inspires the worst kind of whimsy, or at best may make you think of Mark Haddon’s superlative mystery The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. But this is something else entirely: a blackly humorous comedy of errors that presents a different side of Sweden to that portrayed in the bleak visions of Ingmar Bergman.
Yes, I did say Sweden. This is a ‘foreign’ film, so we’re dealing with subtitles for the most part, and the potential pitfalls of cultural comedic idiosyncrasies, but bear with me. Robert Gustafsson (the ‘funniest man in Sweden’, or so says Wikipedia) dons some pretty convincing prosthetics to play the titular centenarian with a penchant for explosives (well, we all need a hobby) who, quite as the title suggests, climbs out the window of his cramped room in a nursing home to escape his own 100th birthday celebration and goes for a wander.
Allan Karlsson hasn’t got an overnight bag, or even much travelling money. But that doesn’t matter to him, as that’s the way he’s always meandered through life, so he thinks nothing of buying a bus ticket as far as his meagre funds will allow and hoping for the best. Then an angry skinhead biker bursts into the bus station and orders Allan to hold his mystery suitcase while he’s in the bog. Right at that moment Allan’s bus arrives, and what’s a man to do? The skinhead told him to hold the suitcase, and he has to catch his bus…
So begins a farcical adventure that threatens to lurch into excruciating Mr Bean territory, or the painful discomfort of Curb Your Enthusiasm, before quickly settling into a warm-hearted and very likeable caper, as Allan picks up a motley crew of travelling companions – fellow singleton Julius (Iwar Wiklander), perpetual student Benny (David Wiberg) and elephant custodian Gunilla (Mia Skäringer) – on the run from Gäddan (Jens Hultén) and his curiously bike-less biker gang, who really want that suitcase back, while the lot are pursued, in the weakest sense of the word, by a small-town detective (Ralph Carlsson) who would rather be doing anything else in the world. Along the way, Allan reminisces on a life spent changing the course of world history as he stumbles between the most extraordinary situations: the Spanish Civil War, the bomb tests in New Mexico, and a Siberian gulag where me meets Einstein’s idiot brother, to name just a few. That naturally elicits comparisons to the aforementioned Tom Hanks vehicle, but The Hundred-Year-Old Man eschews that film’s manipulative drama and pseudo-profundity, aiming instead for knowing, dry laughter that’s underscored by a refreshing streak of sudden violence that should please any fans of ’80s shlock.
While it’s certainly not without its crowd-pleasing moments, and no doubt makes some wry comment on the happenstance of history, The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared is fully aware of its own ridiculousness, and that’s what keeps its fuse lit. Oh, and as long as we’re keeping the explosives metaphors going, it’s a blast!
The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared opens on 4 July