A darkly funny, very human comedy about a middle-aged psychiatric patient and his pal making a go of it in the real world, "Elling" has become the highest-grossing local pic in Norway. An award-winning performance by lead actor Per Christian Ellefsen is reason alone to savor the delights of this gentle comedy.

A darkly funny, very human comedy about a middle-aged psychiatric patient and his pal making a go of it in the real world, “Elling” has become the highest-grossing local pic in Norway. An award-winning performance by lead actor Per Christian Ellefsen is reason alone to savor the delights of this gentle comedy. Carefully handled, the film could grab a hearty slice of arthouse action in most parts of the world.

When his mother dies, Elling (Ellefsen), 40, is discovered living in her apartment with no connection to the outside world. He’s committed to a treatment center, and two years later is deemed ready to rejoin society.

With the help of hospital employee Frank (Jorgen Langhelle), Elling and the slightly dim-witted Kjell Bjarne (Sven Nordin) are installed in an apartment in Oslo. They now have to learn to function on their own — which isn’t easy, especially for Elling. He is as scared of going to the local supermarket as someone with acrophobia is of climbing Mount Everest.

Gradually, Elling learns to take longer and longer walks, and one evening he goes to a poetry reading, where he becomes friendly with writer Alfons Jorgensen (Per Christensen). Elling starts to write poetry of his own and, secretly putting notes with his verses into packages of sauerkraut at the supermarket, he dubs himself “the sauerkraut poet.”

Meanwhile, Kjell, a virgin, has become friendly with the unhappy Reidun (Marit Pia Jacobsen), who lives above the two men. On a car outing to the countryside with Elling and Alfons, Kjell and Reidun become lovers.

Ingvar Ambjornsen has written several novels centered on Elling, one of which was successfully adapted for the stage and directed by pic’s helmer, Petter Naess. Ellefsen also played the lead in that production, and it’s clear from the movie that he and Naess have molded the character to perfection: a strange, awkward and egocentric individual who still manages to get the audience rooting for him all the way. The same goes for Nordin’s Kjell, who may be a dim-witted giant but has a heart of gold.

In his sophomore feature, following the comedy “Absolute Hangover” (1999), Naess walks the thin line between comedy and tragedy perfectly, without letting an opportunity for black comedy pass by. Naess’ filmmaking is simple and efficient, with long takes giving thesps plenty of room. “Elling” is a big-hearted film that sides with its two protagonists from start to finish.

Elling

Norway

Production

A UIP (Norway) release of a Maipo Film & TV Produksjon production. (International sales: Trust Film Sales, Copenhagen.) Produced by Dag Alveberg. Directed by Petter Naess. Screenplay, Axel Hellstenius, based on the novel "Brothers in Blood" (Brodre i blodet) by Ingvar Ambjornsen.

Crew

Camera (color), Svein Krovel; editor, Inge-Lise Langfeldt; music, Lars Lillo Stenberg; art director, Haralds Egede Nissen; costume designer, Aslaug Konradsdottir; sound (Dolby SR), Morten Solum. Reviewed at Norwegian Film Institute, Oslo, Aug. 2, 2001. (In Haugesund, Toronto, Stockholm and AFI film festivals.) Running time: 84 MIN.

With

Elling - Per Christian Ellefsen
Kjell Bjarne - Sven Nordin
Alfons Jorgensen - Per Christensen
Frank Asli - Jorgen Langhelle
Reidun Nordsletten - Marit Pia Jacobsen
Gunn - Hilde Olausson
Hauger - Ola Otnes
Johanne - Eli-Anne Linnestad
Cecilie Kornes - Cecilie Mosli
Haakon Willum - Joachim Rafaelsen
Erikson - Per Gorvel
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