Lasse Hallstrom’s sweet, unassuming My Life as a Dog puts the audience in a time and place that is so warm and inviting, you don’t want to leave it. That is probably the greatest accomplishment of Hallstrom’s ode to childhood innocence. Hallstrom’s breakthrough Swedish movie, which resulted in two Oscar nominations for the filmmaker (Best Director, Best Original Screenplay), perfectly encapsulates the fears, heartaches, tragedies, and triumphs of childhood. Backed up by some amazing child performances and a cast that feels as real as the small town in any country in the world, the film has a winning charm that’s hard to ignore.
Anton Glanzelius plays Ingemar, a troublemaker, who lives with his brother and terminally ill mother. When their mother’s sickness becomes too much for her to bear her troublemaking child, Ingemar is sent off to live with his uncle in a small village in the country. There he meets an eclectic batch of neighbors and falls for the girl next door. It’s Ingemar’s unique personality that draws you in at first watch. Constantly comparing his troubles with those that have it much worse than he does, there’s a great empathetic growth to the character where he is trying to constantly escape his own troubles with a sick mother and being sent off like a dog with no room to be taken care of.
My Life as a Dog is an incredibly personality driven film with a rich, vibrant script and beautiful cinematography and set design giving the town in which Ingemar is sent off to a lived in community quality. There is a warm innocence to the proceedings that makes this a world that you would want to live in and there is very little darkness to be found. There is the inevitable death but it is never mentioned or seen but rather the film allows for it to bleed the edges and show the positivism of growth and moving past it as we all deal with our lives. It’s an uplifting film that never sugarcoats things but rather focuses on themes and moments that contribute to a child’s growth rather than the events that set them back.