A Somewhat Gentle Man (Strand Releasing, NR)

This is a quiet film full of quirky details, and a worthy addition to the noir comedy genre.

Comedies don’t come much darker than A Somewhat Gentle Man (take note of that qualifier), which is a superb showcase for the talents of veteran actor Stellan Skarsgård. He plays Ulrik, a man on the far side of middle age who has just been released after serving 12 years in prison for murder. Hans Petter Moland’s film reveals its secrets slowly and makes an abrupt shift in genre about three-fourths of the way through, but for those who have the patience it delivers an emotional kick which is worth waiting for.
On the outside, Ulrik gets back in touch with his ex-employer Jensen (Bjørn Floberg), a low-level crime boss who is the opposite of classy: He has a laughable haircut, dresses badly, and spends his time in cheap cafes and bars. Jensen finds Ulrik a place to live and a job as a machinist and the ex-con settles down to what he hopes will be an uneventful existence on the right side of the law.
He also gets in touch with his ex-wife Wenche (Kjersti Holmen), who informs him that she told their son Geir (Jan Gunnar Røise) that his father was dead. Despite this, Ulrik re-initiates contact with Geir, now an adult with a very pregnant girlfriend Silje (Julia Bache-Wiig) who bears more than a passing resemblance to Mia Farrow. The young couple represents hope for the future to Ulrik who otherwise is so withdrawn from life that he seems clinically depressed. It’s unfortunate that Silje has expressed reluctance at having a murderer around her baby, even if he is the tot’s grandfather.
Life as a free man is not entirely without its charms, however. Women can’t seem to get enough of Ulrik, from his aged landlady who trades food for sex to Wenche who invites him into the kitchen of her diner for a quickie. He does have a serious problem, however: Jensen wants his services back, and presents Ulrik with a bill for storing his goods and supporting his wife and child while he was in prison. Ulrik also has a score to settle with a man who testified against him, and it’s not clear which path he will choose. He generally presents a calm exterior but does let his gangster self out once to chilling (and joint-mangling) effect, as if to remind us that his story could go either way.
A Somewhat Gentle Man is set in the grubby underside of Oslo and the cinematography by Philip Øgaard favors bleary grays and blues, until the genre shift which is signaled by abrupt changes in music (from retro American hits by artists such as Patsy Cline to conventional action film music) and camera style, as well. This is a quiet film full of quirky details (a Lappish arms dealer and his dwarf sidekick; the Polish version of Dancing with the Stars on Ulrik’s tiny television set), and a worthy addition to the noir comedy genre which gives a veteran actor who usually plays supporting roles a change to take the center stage. | Sarah Boslaugh

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