My Life as a Dog – The Criterion Collection #178 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
September 11, 2011 by Dennis Amith
Make no doubt about it, Lasse Hallström “My Life as a Dog” is one of the better coming-of-age films in cinema with a believable performance by the young Anton Glanzelius. Touching, heartbreaking and real…”My Life as a Dog” is highly recommended!
Image courtesy of © 2011 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.
TITLE: My Life as a Dog – The Criterion Collection #178 (Mitt liv som hund)
MOVIE RELEASE: 1985
DURATION: 95 Minutes
DVD INFORMATION: Color, 1:66:1 Aspect Ratio, Monaural in Swedish with Optional English Subtitles
COMPANY: Janus Films/The Criterion Collection
RELEASE DATE: September 13, 2011
Directed by Lasse Hallstrom
Based on the Novel by Reidar Jonsson
Written by Lasse Hallstrom, Reidar Jonsson, Brasse Brannstrom, Per Berglund
Produced by Waldermar Bergendahl
Music by Bjorn Isfait
Cinematography by Jorgen Persson
Edited by Christer Furubrand, Susanne Linnman
Production Design by Lasse Westfelt
Set Decoration by Tove Hellbom, Pontus Lindblad
Costume Design by Susanne Falck, Inger Pehrsson
Anton Glanzelius as Ingemar
Tomas von Bromssen as Morbror Gunnar
Anki Liden as Ingemars Mamma
Melinda Kinnaman as Saga
Kicki Rundgren as Moster Ulla
Lennart Hjulstrom as Konstnaren
Ing-Marie Carlsson as Berit
Leif Ericson as Farbror Sandberg
Christina Carlwind as Fru Sandberg
Ralph Carlsson as Harry
Viveca Dahlen as Tvattande Kvinna
Arnold Alfredsson as Mannes farfar
Fritz Elofsson as Master
Didrik Gustavvson as Mr. Arvidsson
Jan-Philip Hollstrom as Manne
Vivi Johansson as Tant Arvidsson
My Life as a Dog (Mitt liv som hund) tells the story of Ingemar, a twelve-year-old from a working-class family sent to live with his uncle in a country village when his mother falls ill. There, with the help of the warmhearted eccentrics who populate the town, the boy finds both refuge from his misfortunes and unexpected adventure. Featuring an incredibly mature and unaffected performance by the young Anton Glanzelius, this film is a beloved and bittersweet evocation of the struggles and joys of childhood from Oscar-nominated director Lasse Hallström.
Filmmaker Lasse Hallström is probably best know as the director behind the music videos of Swedish disco group ABBA but Hallström is also known for several major hits such as “Chocalat” (2000), “The Cider House Rules” (1999), “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993) and most recently for directing “Hachi: A Dog’s Tale” (2009). But in 1985, Lasse Hallström was known for his Swedish film “My Life as a Dog” (Mitt liv som hund), a film based on the novel by Reidar Jonsson.
The film was won various awards in different countries, including the USA winning the 45th Golden Globe Awards for “Best Foreign Language Film” and was nominated for an Academy Award for “Best Director” and “Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium”.
The film was released on DVD by the Criterion Collection back in 2003 but now the film has been selected for release on Blu-ray for Sept. 2011.
“My Life as a Dog” is a coming-of-age film that revolves around a 12-year-old boy named Ingemar (played by Anton Glanzelius), a boy who loves his mother and his dog Sickan but while he has a caring heart towards his mother and dog, Ingemar also tends to get into trouble.
From the beginning of the film and throughout the film, Ingemar narrates the story about his relationship with his mother and his dog but also talking about the dog Laika (the dog that the Soviets launched to space and is the first animal to orbit the Earth but also die in orbit), who he tends to compare himself with.
Unfortunately, his mother (played by Anki Liden) who is really sick (and knows she is very sick because she coughs up blood) tries to keep her children unaware of how sick she is but at the same time, her two songs drive her up the wall because of the trouble they get into and cause her to cry in tears.
In one scene, the boys convince Ingemar to put his penis in a bottle and it gets stuck inside, another situation involves him and his childhood girlfriend getting caught by the father holding each other in a bridge and then while running away and hiding in a junk yard, he accidentally burns down the area.
Needless to say, it’s too much trouble for his mother and it’s the last thing she needs to deal with while she is sick.
Because she is sick, Ingemar is sent to stay with his uncle Gunnar (played by Tomas von Bromssen) and his wife Ulla (played by Kicki Rundgren) in the rural town of Smaland, while his brother stays with his mother’s brother. As for his dog, he is told that his dog will be staying at the kennel.
As Ingemar stays with his uncle Gunnar, he actually is in his best behavior. He learns how to play soccer and becomes a member of the soccer team, makes friends in the new town and draws the attention of Saga (played by Melinda Kinnaman), a tomboy who is looked as the main jock in the village but as a girl, she knows that she can only keep the jock image for so long as she is growing breasts and she finds herself starting to like Ingemar.
While living with his uncle, he reads a lingerie catalog to the elder Mr. Arvidsson (played by Didrik Gustavsson) and also does some work at the glass factory (where many people in town work). But while he is living at the new location, it is only temporary and after the summer is over, he is back at home with his mother who is very sick and is bedridden.
For Ingemar, he thinks his mother is tired from all the reading she does but only his oldest brother and relatives understand the severity of her sickness.
Unfortunately, his mother gets very sick and both go to live with their Uncle Sandberg (played by Leif Ericson) but his wife is not so happy that the two have to live with them and when his mother passes away, he once again heads back to the village to stay with his Uncle Gunnar.
But this time things have changed. His Uncle Gunnar and his wife Ulla stay at a home which is owned by the glass factory and now they must share the house with a large Greek family and for Ingemar, there is no place for him to stay.
He can’t understand why he is unwanted by his mother, his relatives and he starts to think that maybe he is like Lakia. Forced to go into space with no one to take care of it or get it back down and eventually, the animal dies.
But this time around, Ingemar starts to wonder about his life with his mother…Why did she die? Was it his fault?
“My Life as a Dog” is presented in 1080p High Definition, color (1:66:1 aspect ratio). And compared to the original DVD release, the film looks much better. Grain is evident, there are a few white specks but the close-ups showcase the details of the film and the contrast of the film looks good. I’m typically critical of many films on Blu-ray that are from the early to mid-’80s because they tend to look overly soft, but in the case of “My Life as a Dog”, the picture quality is good.
According to the Criterion Collection, the new digital transfer was approved by Lasse Hallstrom and was created on a Spirit 2K Datacine from a 35 mm interpositive struck from the original nitrate negative. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter and flicker were manually removed using MTI’s DRS system and Pixel Farm’s PFClean system, while Digital Vision’s DVNR system was used for small dirt, grain and noise reduction.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“My Life as a Dog” is presented in Swedish monaural with English subtitles. The film is dialogue driven and dialogue is crystal clear through the center channel.
According to the Criterion Collection, the original monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from a 35 mm optical track print. Clicks, thumps, hiss and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using Audio Cube’s integrated workstation.
“My Life as a Dog – The Criterion Collection #178” on Blu-ray comes with the following special features:
- Shall We Go to Your or My Place or Each Go Home Alone? – A fifty-two-minute film from 1973 by Hallström, with a video introduction by the director.
- Video interview with Hallström – (18:25) A 2002 interview with Lasse Hallström who talks about the film, the characters and the original novel by Reidar Jonsson.
- Original theatrical trailer – The original theatrical trailer for “My Life as a Dog”.
“My Life as a Dog – The Criterion Collection #178” comes with an 18-page booklet, which includes the following essay “Child’s-Eye View” by Michael Atkinson and “Sweet Operation” by Kurt Vonnegut.
When you watch films about one’s childhood, more often there is a banality in these coming-of-age films.
Too many tend to incorporate a Hollywood style that has too much of a similarity of past films, but when you look for reality, there are films that feel realistic and you find yourself moved by it.
I have to say that “My Life as a Dog” is one of those films. A touching and yet heartbreaking coming-of-age film from filmmaker Lasse Hallström that resonates deeply with viewers as it gives us a perspective of a young boy who loses his family and like his own dog and the Soviet dog who died in space, Lakia, the pain he feels of being unwanted. But also in someway, feeling like he is no different from a dog who is placed in the kennel or in outerspace with no one to love or care for them.
This is a genuine feeling for any young child who loses their family, especially their parent(s) but what makes “My Life as a Dog” so entertaining is showcasing the purity of a child but also learning about “grown-up” things through the adults.
In the beginning, we see Ingemar and his best friend, a girl, who establish this bond that they will be together…forever. And to showcase their bond, they tend to hug and hold each other under a bridge while the train goes by. We see another situation of the purity of Ingemar as Saga, the tomboy is growing breasts and she tells Ingemar to help her wrap her chests, so she can continue to be involved in sports and be treated just like the guys.
Ingemar doesn’t look at these girls sexually, to him…they are just normal young people his age that he plays with. But at the same time, we see how he is thrusted into this new world where he sees all these glassmakers (including his uncle) gawking at the blonde beauty who works at the glass factory. The woman asks Ingemar to accompany her while she poses nude for a sculptor (granted, he is kept in another room), but the only questions he asked by his uncle is if he saw anything. Of course, the curiosity of a child of being asked such a thing, “Why am I being asked such a question… Should I be looking for something?”.
He is also asked by the elder that lives in the basement of his uncle’s home to read a lingerie catalog. Once again, for young Ingemar, he doesn’t know why he is reading these to the adults but it’s those questions that start to peak his curiosity.
Needless to say, it’s a situation that leads to Ingemar trying to find out more about why older men are into the body of an older woman and these are quite interesting “coming-of-age” moments during the film.
But of course, the film is not about a child learning about sex, it’s a film about him slowly learning how life is difficult because he compares himself to his dog Sickan who is taken away from him and the family and is supposedly staying at a kennel (when in truth, it’s probably being killed) or Lakia, the dog that the Soviets put into space. Is there anyone caring for these animals? Or are they just displaced by humanity that no one cares about them.
And in Ingemar’s case, he feels unwanted. He is too young to understand his mother’s sickness but in his mind, he feels that he may have contributed to her death because of him getting into trouble. But it’s him learning how no one in the family wants him to live with him. His uncles don’t want him living in the same house and he is forced to live with an elderly woman who is lonely.
Needless to say, for a young boy, being separated from your mother and brother and the dog you love and now pretty much living away from family is difficult for any young boy to comprehend and I found those scenes t be quite heartbreaking but emotionally, the efficacy of the film is due to the talent of young Anton Glanzelius to showcase that purity of a child, the not knowing what will come next and needless to say, Lasse Hallström definitely found the right boy for the role.
With that being said, it’s important to note that some viewers may have a problem with a scene that involves Saga (the 12-year-old girl) showing her breasts to Ingemar. It’s not a sexual scene but if shown in America, you have no doubt in your mind that today’s film censors would have a problem with it. Needless to say, I figured this should be mentioned for viewers who may be sensitive to it.
The Bu-ray release does contain the two special features that the original DVD had. The 2002 interview with Lasse Hallstrom is included as well as Hallstrom’s first film”Shall We Go to Your or My Place or Each Go Home Alone?” (1973) are included as well.
Overall, “My Life as a Dog” is a fantastic coming-of-age film that doesn’t fit into the banality of similar type of films. The performance by the young Anton Glanzelius was wonderful and also the direction and choice made by director Lasse Hallstrom on what to focus on in the screenplay based on Reidar’s novel (as the novel from what I have heard is quite dark).
Make no doubt about, “My Life as a Dog” is one of the better coming-of-age films out there. Touching, heartbreaking and real…”My Life as a Dog” is highly recommended!
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