It’s not my place to judge a region or a people, and I’m loathe to generalize, but good god do the Scandinavians love cock. I’ve watched three films from the region at this year’s Fantastic Fest, and all three feature some prominent penis. (For the record, Rare Exports features the most twigs and berries clocking in with an astounding fifty plus according to Cole Abaius, professional cock counter.) At least this film’s prick has a recognizable owner. But if fleshy danglers aren’t your bag there’s still a lot to love in A Somewhat Gentle Man.
Ulrik (Stellan Skarsgaard, recognizable prick owner) is released from jail after serving twelve years for murdering the man who slept with his wife. Unsure what to do with his new found freedom he sits in a diner and waits, and his patience is rewarded with the arrival of Rune and Rolf. The former is a friend of Ulrik’s and the latter is an idiot. Rune sets Ulrik up with a roof over his head and a mechanic job, but it comes with the price that Ulrik take revenge against the man whose testimony sent him to jail. He acquires a gun and soon begins the daily routine of working, casing the snitch’s activity, and working up the courage to visit his own grown son. Oh, and maybe a fling with the secretary at the garage. And a quickie with his ex-wife. And some mid-dinner humping with the portly landlady…
A Somewhat Gentle Man is a character piece that moves purposely towards a somewhat obvious conclusion. At least that’s how it appears at first, but the movie rolls forward with so much humor and humanity that the viewer is engaged all the way through the end they thought they saw coming.
Ulrik’s life is filled a sad resignation and his circumstances belie that. His desire for revenge slowly begins to wane though as he finds new connections at work and with the son who was forced to grow up without him. Both relationships also provide Ulrik with the two scenes that define where he is and where he wants to be.
Merete is fragile in large part due to an abusive ex, and when he comes to visit and rough her up Ulrik steps in with a brutal (but well deserved) response. At the other end of the spectrum is an incredibly sweet and revealing scene with Ulrik sitting in his car, alone, and simply watching his son walk and talk with his pregnant wife. We can’t hear their conversation but their joy pours from their laughing and smiling faces. Ulrik watches and laughs along with them, tears of joy spilling from his eyes as he realizes his son is on the right track… the one he himself left behind a long time ago.
The film is surprisingly humorous thanks to well written characters and actors who bring parts big and small to life. The garage owner, Sven, delivers all of his dialogue in soliloquy-like speeches with few breathes between. Margrethe, the randy landlady, is comical at first in her directness when it comes to sex. She delivers a warm meal, lets Ulrik get a few bites in, then removes her underwear and lays down with her legs spread. She reveals herself to be more than just a burly sexpot though when she’s spurned and compelled to tell Ulrik that “Sluts have feelings too you know!”
The movie is an unassuming and surprising piece of entertainment that quietly defies more than a little convention in its mix of laughs and sweetness. Skarsgaard shines in the kind of starring role that he’ll never get in Hollywood. And that’s not just because he shows his wang. It’s a great performance in a film filled with them, and it just may be the warmest thing to come out of Norway since microwaved lutefisk.