Lasse Hallstrom’s fifth feature effort in 10 years, My Life As a Dog is an exquisite look at childhood, based loosely on Reidar Jonsson’s 1983 novel about a rural-provincial 12-year-old equivalent of J.D. Salinger’s Holden Caulfield.
Hallstrom obviously put a lot of personal recollections into his telling of Ingemar Johansson, who has a hard time adjusting to the atmosphere of his beloved mother’s house. She is bedridden with a terminal illness, but also given to temper tantrums. To secure the mother her peace and quiet, the boy is sent away to some relatives in a rural community near the famous Boda glassworks.
When his mother eventually dies, Ingemar finds elbow-room for his mischief when settling permanently with his soccer-playing, glassblower uncle, an amiable prankster himself, in a cozily tolerant household of no-nonsense love and happiness. The year of the action is 1959, when the boy’s countryman-namesake won over Floyd Patterson in the world boxing champion fight.
Getting down on his knees to bark and to feign barking turns out to be the boy’s best means of getting around various moments of crisis. Otherwise, he is endowed with a charm so obvious that nobody can quite help loving him. As played by amateur Anton Glanzelius, dark-haired, slant-eyed and with a mouth of a multitude of expressions, there is nothing slick or cute about this Ingemar as there is nothing maudlin nor prearranged about the whole film.