Now that the year is three-quarters over and it's almost time for studios to start flooding screens with their choices for the Academy Awards, Elling, the Norwegian Best Foreign Film contender from last year arrives in theaters (it didn't win). For whatever odd reason, the Academy chose to forgo the large epic movies they are so fond of and instead nominated films that were more intimate, and even funny. Elling, based on the book by Ingvar Ambjornsen, has it's roots in the theater. Director Petter Naess (Absolutt Blamandag), along with co-writer Axel Hellstenius (Absolutt Blamandag, Blessed Are Those Who Thirst) adapted Naess' play, and brought in the two actors who were in the original production to play the same parts in the movie. As a result, they easily step into their characters, making them more believable and can have more fun with the material.

Elling is a strange road-trip/odd couple movie that centers on two mental patients living on their own for the first time in over two years. They have no idea how to cope with the world. Elling (Per Christian Ellefsen, The 7 Deadly Sins, Indifference) is the ultimate recluse. He never stepped outside his home where he lived with his mother until she died. When he does go outside, he feels dizzy and needs to go back in. Elling is an annoying little man who constantly complains and is extremely prissy. His roommate Kjell Bjarne (Sven Nordin, Eva's Eye, The Prompter) is the opposite. Bjarne is huge fat man with a voracious appetite, and is prone to yelling and fits of rage. He also has habit of banging his head on the nearest thing (wall, table,...) when frustrated. His main goal is to have sex.

One of the reasons that Elling becomes so charming is that it is such a simple story. Naess puts the focus completely on Elling and Bjarne in their new apartment. Despite the fact that the two bicker like an old married couple, they are genuine friends, and want to assimilate back into the world. They know that they need each other to do this, and help each other out at every opportunity. Frank Asli (Jorgen Langhelle, Blessed Are Those Who Thirst, Only Clouds Move the Stars), their social worker, also has faith in them. Elling and Bjarne may be socially maladjusted, but they are inherently decent people. Elling does his best to get Bjarne to talk to the woman upstairs, and Bjarne coaxes Elling outside for a meal. Of course, they argue afterwards.

The tone of Elling is sweet, sometimes unmercilessly. Elling and Bjarne truly like each other, and both truly want to improve, and Naess makes sure that they do. He plays on their neurotic tendencies to great effect. They have their own rooms in the apartment, but quickly move the beds so they share a room, just like they did at the hospital. Frank goes to great lengths to try to teach them the proper way of answering the phone. And when the changes begin to happen, it's like an epiphany to the two. A simple thing like crossing the street, walking into the store, or talking to a stranger becomes a thing of pure joy. Elling does near the point of cheesiness, but the Elling and Bjarne characters are so quirky and enjoyable that it's easy to forgive this point.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 29 minutes, Norwegian with English subtitles, Rated R for language and some sexual content.

Back to Movies