As Swedish director Lasse Hallström's latest outing A Dog's Purpose arrives in UK cinemas, this award-winning early film in his career gets a Blu-Ray release, reminding us of why he's been able to cross over from arthouse to mainstream Hollywood success.
There's clearly something about dogs, which fascinates Lasse Hallström. His latest release is A Dog's Purpose, he made Hachi: A Dog's Tale in 2009 with Richard Gere and back in 1985, My Life As A Dog bagged him an Oscar nomination for both writing and direction, and won a Golden Globe as Best Foreign Language Film.
Dogs play an important role in this story of a 12-year-old boy, Ingemar, in late 1950s rural Sweden. With an absent father and a very sick mother, young Ingemar dotes on his beloved dog but soon has to try to come to terms with being separated from his brother, mother and pet when he's sent away to a small village to stay with his Aunt and Uncle as his mother slowly fades.
In the village, eccentric characters (a boy with green hair, a man who never stops fixing his roof, a tomboy who wants to box and play soccer and hide her emerging breasts), help to distract Ingemar from the real horrors he faces, quietly sensing that his mother will not recover and that, actually, his dog hasn't really gone to a kennel at all but has been put to sleep.
Throughout, he muses fate, reciting stories of accident and downfall. In particular, he recalls Laika, the Russian dog who was sent into orbit to test stress levels of space travel but who, ultimately, died alone in space of starvation. Things could be worse, thinks Ingemar, when compared to what happened to poor Laika.
Surrounding this, the theme of awakening sexuality is constantly present.
My Life As A Dog is a charming film. Not a lot happens – this is all about people and their interactions, and about growing up. It manages the difficult trick of being whimsical and forthright at the same time. It's hard to imagine a film now showing a 12-year-old girl showing a 12-year-old boy her small breasts and asking him to touch them. At times we feel we're intruding whilst at others, we're in on Ingemar's narration.
Great performances aid the tone greatly, with young Anton Glanzelius, looking and behaving like a terrier himself, making sure we all fall in love with him. If Hallström has sometimes since overdone the schmaltz in films like Chocolat, here he gets it just right.
It may be over 30 years old but this film is as playful as a puppy.
MY LIFE AS A DOG (1985) / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: LASSE HALLSTRÖM / SCREENPLAY: LASSE HALLSTRÖM, BRASSE BRÄNNSTRÖM, PER BERGLUND / STARRING: ANTON GLANZELIUS, TOMAS VON BRÖMSSEN, ANKI LIDÉN, MELINDA KINNAMAN / RELEASE DATE: 5TH MAY