Fantastic Fest 2010 Review: A SOMEWHAT GENTLE MAN

GATW Guest Writer

by: GATW Guest Writer
September 28th, 2010

a somewhat gentleman

Rating: 4/5

Writer: Kim Fupz Aakeson
Director: Hans Petter Moland
Cast: Stellan Skarsgard, Jannike Kruse, Jorunn Kjellsby, Bjorn Floberg

In tribute to the film itself, I'm making this opening paragraph of my A SOMEWHAT GENTLE MAN review true (which should always be the case) and not complicated with unnecessary style or wordy window dressing - A SOMEWHAT GENTLE MAN offers a simple premise, and with a subtle and assured hand plenty of humor and quiet heartbreak is brought out of its story of a man getting out of prison after 12 years and simply trying to live.

The man trying to function in society after being behind steel bars for over a decade is Ulrik (Stellan Skarsgard), who comes out of prison with a long ponytail, although now the front of his hair is receding and the look seems a bit outdated. Ulrik no doubt had that style before he went in and his look not changing and the fact that he keeps it throughout the film says much about our over-the-hill ex-con with one seemingly small choice - this is not Ulrik's world anymore, it changed without him. Ulrik's hairstyle slyly hints that a major challenge of life after prison is just adjusting, suggesting a major theme with a subtle move, and keeping the story flowing naturally without blatant exposition speed bumps, which is what you get with this particular decision.

This tale of life after bars is appropriately difficult for Ulrik and the audience, done with a slight and moving whimper while staying away from the melodramatic. We learn much about our lead character and his story through his interactions with various people, some he knew before prison and some he didn't, as Ulrik gradually makes the rounds to check on his past life and start to live a new one. There are plot developments that include new love as well as attempts at reconnection and redemption, but there is no cinematic whitewash to them; the love comes in broken places from defeated women that aren't hookers with a heart of gold, but real women just trying to live with the damage that happens to one after bad romances and many cold years. The attempts at redemption come from Ulrik trying to rebuild a relationship with his son, who is now a man who tells people he has no father, developed in a way that shows the expected warts, but also little moments of encouragement that feel real.

The filmmakers also find humor with their story of life after prison. Wisely though, they make sure to keep the levity with the natural tone of the film, giving you laughs that come from odd but possible situations and the people Ulrik finds himself around without using actual jokes. Many chuckles can be found with Ulrik's landlord who is low on physical beauty, but insists on giving Ulrik a little something extra with his meal in a very direct and unromantic way.

The performance by Stellan Skarsgard is right where it needs to be with his characters who use little words and tend to keep it simple when he does decide it's time to talk. It's a low-key role in which Skarsgard communicates to the audience largely through his face and reactions. And as the story progresses, Skarsgard's acting ensures you can softly feel Ulrik's quiet wall of pain start to break when he begins to enjoy his new life, like when Ulrik has uncontrollable laughter at the sight of watching his son just live his life, incredibly happy that his son was able to make a great life despite having a father in prison for about half of his life.

A SOMEWHAT GENTLE MAN is a film that is built with skilled hands that are aware that a great way to build relatable and/or engaging characters is to create honest characters. Ones that seemingly didn't come from the imagination of a writer, but rather are members of our world. The film also sells its honesty and adds to its emotional power by placing its real-like characters in a story that seems to come together organically and not from a words on a page (even though they, of course, did).

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