Film review: Elling

Published: Friday, Sept. 20 2002 7:50 a.m. MDT

For further evidence that not everything translates well from its native language into English, consider "Elling."

This broad-humored comedy/drama — which has received some favorable comparisons to "Rain Man" — was a huge hit in its home country, Norway. (It was the Norwegian nominee for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, losing to "No Man's Land").

The film's brand of humor seems a bit too broad, and the quirks of its main characters aren't really all that endearing, instead coming off as irritating and tiresome.

Perhaps the film's appeal in its homeland has to do with the status of its source material, Ingvar Ambjornsen's novel of the same name, which revolves around the title character (Per Christian Ellefsen), an agoraphobic 40-year-old who is sent to an institution after his mother dies. There, he befriends Kjell Bjarne (Sven Nordin), a sex- and food-obsessed mountain of a man.

To their surprise, the two men are released from the institution and given an apartment, paid for by the government. The catch is, they're being supervised by Frank Asli (Jorgen Langhalle), a social worker who expects them to socialize and lead normal lives — or as normal as these two can possibly live.

Frank's plans for the duo stand in stark contrast to the ambitions of Elling, a would-be poet who would prefer to stay in the apartment all day. Meanwhile Kjell Bjarne (the character is never referred to without his last name) has become obsessed with Reidun (Marit Pia Jacobsen), a pregnant woman he discovered passed out in the stairwell.

All of this sounds like an amusing premise, but Ellefsen's rather shrill performance and histrionics make it rough going at times. (And director Petter Naess apparently made little effort to restrain his star.)

As Kjell Bjarne, Nordin is better, though his character is so oafish that he's not all that sympathetic either. Actually, the most interesting people here are Langhalle's exasperated social worker and Per Christensen, playing a veteran writer who encourages Elling's efforts.

"Elling" is rated R for occasional use of strong sex-related profanity, crude sexual slang terms and racial epithets, brief male nudity (and glimpses of nude statues), brief sex (mostly overheard) and violence (tantrums and overheard vehicular violence). Running time: 89 minutes.


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