Film Scouts Diaries

2010 Festroia International Film Festival Diaries
Part 7: ...Men out of Jail ...

by Henri Béhar

SETUBAL, PORTUGAL, June 10, 2010 - On paper, Vladimir Balko's Soul at Peace (Slovakia, in Competition ) and Hans Petter Moland's A Somewhat Gentle Man (Norway, in Competition) could be twins. Both deal with men coming out of jail, one (the Slovak) sentenced to a five year imprisonment for stealing lumber in the yard where he worked; the other (the Swede) locked up for twelve years for murder. Both have to deal with life-after-prison, jobs, families (what is left of them), old friends (or so they think) and former partners in crime (the Swede was a professional killer). Both films also rest squarely of the shoulders of their main actors – Attila Mokos (the Slovak), lean and mean à la Daniel Craig, and Stellan Skarsgaard, a giant in more ways than one.

On screen, the two films are more like (very) distant cousins. Where Soul at Peace competently walks a straight line from beginning to end, A Somewhat Gentle Man takes a more adventurous path. Ulrik (Stellan Skarsgaard, of Breaking the Waves and Mamma Mia! fame) cannot decide whether he should "take care" of the man who sent him to jail, then return to the street underworld with his old boss, or reintegrate into society. Spurred as he is by the prospect of (perhaps) reuniting with his son and (maybe) having a relationship with the cantankerous woman that manages the workshop where he works, he agrees to move in the basement of his gangster boss's sister, an increasingly demanding virago who will not hesitate to trade hot meals for quick sex, however unenthusiastic. Did I mention Gentle Man is a comedy?

If black comedy is a risky genre, darkly grotesque comedy is a downright perilous high-wire act. Rather than going for the "wacky" style of a Guy Ritchie, director Hans Petter Moland judiciously veers toward the minimalist approach of an Aki Kaürismaki. Soberly funny, cooly detached, but unexpectedly warm, especially in the second part, actor Skarsgaard is, well, stellar.

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