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My Life as a Dog (Criterion Collection) (1985)

Cast: Anton Glanzelius, Anton Glanzelius, Anki Liden, more...
Director: Lasse Hallström, Lasse Hallström
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Studio: Criterion
Genre: Foreign, Scandinavia, Coming of Age , Dysfunctional Families, Criterion Collection
Running Time: 101 min.
Subtitles: English
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In 1959 Sweden, young Ingemar (Anton Glanzelius) lives with his dying mother and his nasty older brother. He survives all of life's knocks by comparing himself to those who are worse off--such as Laika, the little Russian space dog who was rocketed to his death and had nothing to say in the matter. Ingemar begins to identify with Laika more and more as his mother's health deteriorates, at times dropping to all fours and baying at the moon. When his mother is advised to get some peace and quiet away from her children, Ingemar is sent to live with his loveable uncle and aunt. For the first time, the boy is surrounded by relatives and classmates who pose no threat and who genuinely like him. He even has a sexual awakening. When his mother dies, he no longer rationalizes his misfortunes by comparing himself to those less fortunate; from now on, he can conjure up pleasant memories of his summer away from home to sustain him through the hard times. My Life as a Dog (Mitt Liv Som Hund) is based on the autobiographical novel by Reidar Jonsson. ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide

Special Features:

  • Shall We Go to My or Your Place or Each Go Home Alone? (1973) - A 52-minute film by Lasse Hallstrom
  • New video interview with Hallstrom
  • Reflections on My Life as a Dog by Kurt Vonnegut
  • Essay by film critic Michael Atkinson
  • Theatrical Trailer

GreenCine Staff Pick: Chris Sullivan in the Independent (UK) recently praised My Life as a Dog as "one of the greatest films about childhood that has ever been made," and, while that could be overstating the case, I won't argue. Lasse Hallström has since gone on to make several successful Hollywood films but it was with this film that he earned his reputation and it is this film that remains his most resonant. Set in 1950s Sweden, it's the tale of young Ingemar (a remarkable Anton Glazelius), his mother terminally ill with tuberculosis, who is separated from his brother to live with relatives. Add to this the fact that he has to temporarily put his dog in a kennel, along with the natural confusion inherent with being on the cusp of puberty, and you have some turmoil. He empathizes with poor Laika, the Russian dog-turned-Cosmonaut, although one hopes he won't meet the same fate ("They put her in space. I don't think she felt so good about it. She went round and round until her doggy bag was empty. Then she starved to death," he narrates in one of his soliloquies in the film). But he soon finds himself distracted by his new surroundings, and in particular by the tomboyish Saga - their budding friendship only adding to his confusion. The film is episodic in nature, building whatever narrative momentum it has on smaller events, going for atmosphere and character over huge moments, but Hallstrom seamlessly blends humor and tragedy in what amounts to an incredibly poignant coming of age evocation.

Also available in the original DVD version, which is fine, too, but the Criterion disc has a superior high-definition digital transfer supervised by the director and improved English subtitle translation, as well as a 1973 short film by Hallstrom. -- Craig Phillips

GreenCine Member Reviews

A Seminal Point in Film History by jmwagner66 January 27, 2012 - 6:09 PM PST
This is an amazing film. The story is somewhat autobiographical, though not as sad as the truth (is anything ever as sad as the truth?). My favorite line is when the kid has to go sleep with an elderly relative. The old lady turns to him and says something to the effect that if she'd known she was having company she would not have eaten so much cabbage. I laugh every time. Maybe I shouldn't laugh when the kid has been abandoned by his father, his mother is too sick to care for him and he loses his dog. But the look on the kid's face is too much. We've been there. Kids feeling like they've hit bottom. Nothing could be worse. Of course it does get worse. But also better at times and finally life is what it is and you move through it.
The cinematography is beautiful. The script and direction are wonderful. I watch this movie over and over.

The extras on the Criterion Collection disk are well worth watching. The film "Shall We Go To Your Place or My Place or Just Go Home" is a fun little flick. The insights into the director and the films are excellent.

GreenCine Member Rating

(Average 7.90)
134 Votes
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