THE CONTENDER: The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared (2013)
Number of Nominations: 1 – Makeup and Hairstyling (Love Larson and Eva Von Bahr)
Number of Wins: 0
Accepted wisdom has it that foreign language films historically have a difficult time at the Oscars. The rules for eligibility in the Best Foreign Language Film category (which is evidently going to be redubbed Best International Feature Film as of next year) are admittedly labyrinthine and strange; with countries submitting entries for consideration like it’s the Eurovision Song Contest. If a film is not an “official entry” from a country, it’s often out of luck. Even if they are official, they can still be disqualified or withdrawn for a wide range of reasons, from language to distribution to politics.
But this fails to take into account the huge number of foreign films that have been nominated in other categories. Granted, only a handful has competed for Best Picture. But there have been dozens of documentaries, several animated films, and a long line of actors and actresses recognized in their categories. The complete list of nominated writers and directors reads like a who’s who of international cinema masters. And if you look at the technical categories, foreign films are extremely well-represented in Costume Design, Cinematography, and Art Direction.
Makeup is one of the few categories where international films are arguably under-represented, although they have been catching up in recent years. The number of foreign language films nominated in the category has almost doubled in the last decade alone. Recently, Sweden has been on a bit of a streak, racking up its most recent nomination just this past winter for Border. The country’s first nod in the category came in 2016 with the marquee-busting comedy The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared.
Directed by Felix Herngren and based on the novel by Jonas Jonasson, The 100-Year-Old-Etc chronicles the adventures of Allan Karlsson (played by popular Swedish comedian Robert Gustafsson). On the day of his 100th birthday, he decides he’s had enough of the retirement home where he’s been forcibly placed and…well, you can probably figure it out. He buys a bus ticket for as far as his pocket change will take him, which turns out to be not far at all, a defunct train station in the middle of nowhere. But before he can get on the bus, a skinhead biker, frustrated that he can’t squeeze his oversized suitcase into the cramped restroom with him, demands that Allan hold on to it for a minute and not let go. That’s exactly what Allan does. He just gets on the bus, too.
Reaching the end of the line, Allan is befriended by Julius (Iwar Wiklander), an older man who’s facing the likelihood of being put into a retirement home himself soon. Meanwhile, the skinhead turns out to be a courier for a British crime boss (Alan Ford, who you may recognize from Snatch) and the suitcase contains millions in cash. Thus begins a journey across the Swedish countryside with the skinheads trying to track down the suitcase and a bored policeman (Ralph Carlsson) trying (not very hard) to track down the hundred-year-old man.
Layered on top all of this, we have Allan recounting his life story in flashback, a distinctly Forrest Gump-like journey that finds Allan discovering his one true passion in life: explosives. His love for blowing stuff up first lands him in a mental hospital. But upon his release, he’s able to put it to use, first in Spain alongside the revolutionaries against Franco, then as part of the Manhattan Project, and eventually in a Russian gulag, where he’s imprisoned alongside Herbert Einstein, Albert’s idiot brother. After an escape, Allan ends up working as a spy for both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. during the Cold War, feeding both sides useless information.
So what we have here is essentially a mash-up of Forrest Gump and an absurdist crime comedy. Think Coen Brothers Lite. Perhaps surprisingly, the present-day antics work a lot better than the flashback romp through history. There’s a simple reason for this. The characters in this half are a whole lot more compelling than the various historical caricatures Allan encounters. Apart from Herbert Einstein, who is admittedly funny, Allan encounters Franco, Stalin, Dr. Robert Oppenheimer, Truman, Gorbachev, and Reagan; all played indifferently by actors who sound nothing like their counterparts. If this were a Hollywood movie, these would be opportunities for scene-stealing cameos. In European cinema, they’re awkward moments best glossed over as quickly as possible.
But the characters in the present-day story are a lot of fun. Allan and Julius’ little group grows to include Benny (David Wiberg), a stammering, middle-aged graduate student who is perpetually a few credits shy of completing whatever degree he’s working on at the moment. We also meet Gunilla (Mia Skäringer), a young woman who lives on her own with Sonja, a liberated circus elephant. (Oh, did I not mention there was an elephant involved? There is.) Gunilla’s ex-boyfriend also happens to be the brother of one of the skinheads, in case you’d forgotten about them. Spending time with these characters is so pleasant and breezy that you almost come to resent Allan’s past intruding on the story.
The Oscar-nominated makeup is pretty good but I don’t think I’d deem it Oscar-worthy. Gustafsson’s old-age makeup is clearly the showcase piece and it’s fine, though not up to the heights hit by Dick Smith earlier in films like The Exorcist. As for the historical figures, some like Einstein and Stalin are perfectly acceptable, while others like Reagan are downright dodgy. Makeup artists Love Larson and Eva Von Bahr would do better work on their second Oscar-nominated film, A Man Called Ove, the following year.
The Makeup category has taken a hit in recent years, as advances in digital technology have blurred the lines between makeup and visual effects. The category used to be dominated by science fiction, fantasy and horror films. These days, the Academy is more likely to be impressed by historical transformations and old-age makeup than by monsters and aliens. Most of the innovative work in that area is now a marriage between digital effects and practical makeup artists and, unfortunately, the Academy doesn’t seem to know quite how to address that yet.
The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared is now the third highest grossing Swedish film of all time, behind only the original versions of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played With Fire (the Swedes do seem to like long titles, don’t they?). In fact, a sequel was recently released called (deep breath) The 101-Year-Old Man Who Skipped Out On The Bill And Disappeared. It’s currently streaming on Netflix and a glance at its IMDb page suggests that the filmmakers decided to double down on the structure of the first one, with flashbacks to Allan’s eventful life intercut with a quirky road trip to find a Russian soda recipe. Feels like the very definition of pushing your luck to me but who knows? Maybe it’s just kooky enough to work.
The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared is available on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital from Music Box Films.