Sunday, January 3, 2010

#178: My Life as a Dog

(Lasse Hallström, 1985)

I had put off watching this movie for a really long time for two reasons, both of which turn out to be unfounded. The first is that I really hate Lasse Hallström, because he makes sappy, sentimental bullshit like Cider House Rules and Chocolat that is less about pleasing audiences and more about winning Oscars for the Weinsteins. Naturally, I figured this movie would have similar ambitions (more on that in a minute). The second reason is that I had heard the movie was super depressing, and for some reason I associated the movie with child abuse. Neither one of these things turned out to be accurate, which I was happy about.

As for the possibility of sappiness, it's definitely here, and at any moment the film could have descended into that territory. But Hallström's broad, manipulative strokes are not yet developed here. Instead, My Life as a Dog is a subtle depiction of a child's attempt to deal with loss and change, closer to the brilliant Ratcatcher than the empty Cider House Rules. I wonder had Hallström not made such a well-balanced and confident film before coming to Hollywood if he would have been as confident in his ability to produce worthy films with the material he has worked on since. Instead of the thoughtful work produced here (with the last screenplay Hallström wrote himself), the past quarter century has been composed of pabulum for the upscale masses, making him the Paul WS Anderson of the Oscars (only, well, I kind of like Paul WS Anderson). It's sad to see such a small personal, touching film as the starting point for such a career.

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