out of Five
Running time: 89
Well-acted, warm-hearted ‘feelgood’ comedy drama that doesn’t resort to sentimentality or clichés – this was deservedly nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar last year.
Despite the fact that Elling is probably destined to become known as ‘the Norwegian Mental Patient Movie’, it is much better than that short (if accurate) description might lead you to expect. Based on a book, Blood Brothers by Ingvar Ambjornsen it was first turned into a play by screenwriter Axel Hellstenius. In addition, the play was directed by Naess and starred the two leads.
The result is a warm-hearted, refreshingly unsentimental feelgood movie that deservedly received a Best Foreign Film Oscar nomination last year.
Dead Parents And Head-Banging
The film opens with the authorities discovering the sensitive, middle-aged Elling (Per Christian Ellefsen, who looks like a furiously intense John Mills) hiding in a cupboard after the death of his mother. He is sent to an insane asylum, where he becomes roommates with Kjell Bjarne (Sven Nordin), a huge, doltish man whose main mode of expression is to bang his head against the wall.
Two years later, both men are released from the asylum and move into a
state-run apartment. With the help of their social worker Frank (Jorgen
Langhelle) they try to adjust to the ‘normal’ world, which involves
seemingly impossible tasks like learning to use the telephone and going to the shops. Later on, Kjell Bjarne falls for their upstairs neighbour while Elling strikes up a friendship with an elderly poet and discovers his own talent for poetry.
Naturally, the plot is less important than the relationship between the two men, which is frequently very moving (such as the scene when they discover that, although the flat has two bedrooms, they'd still rather share with each other as before) and very funny - Elling’s attempts to use the phone and their eventual method of ‘practice’ are a definite highlight.
From Stage To Screen And Free From Cliche
Both actors are excellent – the fact that they originated the roles on stage goes some way towards accounting for both the ‘lived-in’ nature of their performances and the believability of their obviously close relationship. Though on the surface, they appear to be the mental patient version of The Odd Couple, we gradually see that in fact they complement each other perfectly and each man reveals surprising depths.
In most other ‘mental patient’ movies (The Eighth Day, Rain Man, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape), there is usually a central ‘normal’ character who learns Important Lessons from their interaction with the ‘simple’ nature of their companion. Thankfully Elling avoids all those clichés and dispenses with the syrupy sentimentality that usually characterises Hollywood movies of this type. Having said that, Kevin Spacey has apparently snapped up the remake rights so expect it all to be ladled back in – a good reason to catch this while you can.
There’s an awful lot to enjoy here, with some hilarious scenes, perhaps the funniest of which is an outburst at the Poetry Night that Elling plucks up the courage to attend. Also, budding unpublished poets may want to take note of Elling’s unorthodox but effective method of self-publishing…
To sum up, Elling is an enjoyable, moving and frequently funny film that deserves to find as wide an audience as possible. Highly recommended.