Elling

on May 29, 2002 by Wade Major
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   There has always been a strange overabundance of downtrodden, misbegotten, disenfranchised and dejected misfits in Scandinavian cinema, a proud tradition of village idiots and welfare cases stretching back as far as anyone can remember. When integrated properly, as they often are in the films of Ingmar Bergman, they serve merely to help reinforce some broader commentary about human nature on which the greater part of the film has already been anchored. Unfortunately, it's the American model of sentimentalism that more often prevails, shamelessly flaunting the most extreme human dysfunctions in what amounts to little more than emotional extortion through guilt.

   The Oscar-nominated “Elling” is an especially irritating case in point, a movie framed around two characters afflicted with such crippling social ineptitude that merely speaking with a stranger or mustering the courage to leave their apartment is offered up as some kind of earth-shaking triumph.

   Elling (Per Christian Ellefsen) is a jittery middle-aged mouse of a man who suddenly finds himself institutionalized after the mother who has sheltered and pampered him for his whole life passes away. There he is roomed with Kjell Bjarne (Sven Nordin), a dim-witted fortyish oaf who dreams only of losing his virginity. Together, they form the most tired of buddy clichés, a real-life facsimile of Pinky and the Brain, unlikely friends brought together through common misfortune. Finally, after two years, Elling and Kjell Bjarne are unleashed on the world, supplied with an apartment and assigned a social worker who tirelessly presses them to overcome their neuroses in order to develop normal lives and relationships which, after considerable effort, they eventually begin to do.

   That “Elling” was able to secure an Oscar nomination in place of films on the level of the Iranian “Baran” is proof positive that Academy voters are as susceptible as anyone else to this sort of cinematic pandering. Adapted from a book by Ingvar Ambjornsen, “Elling” forages for audience sympathy like a temperamental child begging for attention, giving audiences no reason to truly care for its decrepit freaks beyond the promise of a reprieve from their incessant whining.

   None of this, however, should be taken to suggest that there is no audience for “Elling.” Quite to the contrary, those who consider it virtuous to be hopeless and pathetic will likely be sucked in--hopefully for good. Starring Per Christian Ellefsen, Sven Nordin, Per Christensens, Jorgen Langhelle and Marit Pia Jacobsen. Directed by Petter Næss. Written by Axel Hellstenius. Produced by Dag Alveberg. A First Look release. Drama. Norwegian-language; subtitled. Rated R for language and some sexual content. Running time: 88 min

Tags: Per Christian Ellefsen, Sven Nordin, Per Christensens, Jorgen Langhelle and Marit Pia Jacobsen. Directed by Petter Nss. Written by Axel Hellstenius. Produced by Dag Alveberg. A First Look release. Drama
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