Swedish cinema has an uncanny knack for sentimentality. Lasse Halstrom's My Life as aDog certainly exemplifies this argument. In his coming of age tale Halstrom successfully captures the beauty, tragedy, and at times absurdity of growing up. The film exists as a series of memories and as such, flows quite nostalgically often relying on heavy lighting and slow dialogue to drive home the experience. Furthermore, like any good memory film it requires certain forms of repetition, which center around specific moments, particularly repeated playings of the song "What A Lovely Bunch of Coconuts" which serves as the focal point for the past for a young boy.
The young boy mentioned is Ingemar (Anton Glanzeilus), who through reflective narrative recalls the times up to and briefly after his mothers death. It is apparent that his life is quite tragic, in that he has no constant father figure, a sick mother and indifferent relatives. Fortunately, for Ingemar he has family friends in rural Sweden who agree to take care of the wandering child. These people belong to a village of eccentric persons, which include a androgynous girl, a boy with green hair and a voluptuous woman who takes a particular liking to the young Ingemar. It is with this bizarre cast of characters that Ingemar finds a home, because they like him are unconventional in their existence. The film ends with Ingemar's fond memories of the past using his time spent with these relatives as a high point in his life, especially in relation to the space dog Laika who the Russians left to starve in the great unknown.
The beauty of this film exists in its simplicity. The film is undeniably intended to be seen through the eyes of Ingemar who is indifferent to female sexuality, assumes his mothers sickness to be fleeting and fails to understand that his father will never return. As such the film often focuses solely on eye-line shots of Ingemar as he overlooks a young girls nudity as nothing more than helping a friend, or as he reads lingerie adds to an ailing and perverse elderly man. Even the films humor exists in a realm of childishness, often using acts of absurdism as comedy, whether it be toilet humor or crazy old men swimming in rivers the film is meant for the mind of a child. Despite this, it exists as a very adult film. The problems shown represent those emerging in the world of the eighties, particularly single parent households and an increasing gap between the poor and the rich. Halstrom's ability to expertly navigate between the dueling worlds of youthful innocence and worldly experience is an obvious explanation for the unwavering praise the film received upon released. It exists in its own realm and remains steadfastly a work of affection remembrance and achingly blissful disenchantment.
The best version of this film is the Criterion release of course, and while I have not made it through the supplements I imagine they are quite good and look forward to the essays which are included.