On the lam with 'The 100-Year-Old Man'

On the lam with 'The 100-Year-Old Man'
"The 100-Year-Old Man," with Robert Gustafsson, is the highest-grossing film in Swedish history. (Music Box Films)

One can pretty much ascertain from its title the basic plot of the Swedish film "The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared."

But titles can be deceiving.


The highest-grossing film in Swedish history (it made $18.25 million), "The 100-Year-Old Man" is more than a tale of a centenarian on the lam. It's a quirky, absurdist, Nordic "Forrest Gump" about a free spirit and oddball named Allan Karlsson, who enjoys drinking vodka and blowing things up, including a fox that killed his beloved cat.

Through chance and comedic circumstances, Allan was embroiled in the Spanish Civil War, the Manhattan Project and other pivotal moments of the 20th century. Along the way, he met Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin, Harry S. Truman and even Albert Einstein's not-so-bright brother.

But now he's 100, living a mundane life in a nursing home. Just before his birthday party, Allan escapes for another grand adventure involving some nasty criminals, a suitcase full of cash and even an elephant.

The film, which opens Friday, is based on the Jonas Jonasson bestseller that has sold more than 6 million copies worldwide.

"When I read the book, I really fell in love with it," said Felix Herngren, who directed and co-wrote the adaptation. "I like the kind of absurdist tone of it, and the sense of humor is the humor I like. In the western world — at least in Sweden — our whole life we strive to make money and get better apartments and houses and stuff, but in the end we tend to end up alone in an elderly home with no friends visiting. It's kind of sad."

This story, Herngren said, gives people hope. It's nice to see a man who, when he is 100 years old, is still curious and has a great adventure in front of him.

"I got very happy when I read the book," the director said. "I have always been thinking about how my life is going to be when I get old. I started thinking about getting old when I was 7 years old. I am a bit odd in that matter."

Allan is the kind of antihero that a lot of us would like to be, script co-writer Hans Ingemansson said by email. "We're fascinated by Allan's total indifference when it comes to authority, money and things in general — those things which keep (us) normal people awake at night, worrying," Ingemansson wrote.

"The 100-Year-Old Man" stars Robert Gustafsson, one of Sweden's most popular comedic actors.

Gustafsson wasn't sure "100-Year-Old Man" would work as a film.

"When I read the book, I thought, how can it ever be possible to make a film based on the book?" Gustafsson said by email. "As long as the intention isn't to make a film 14 hours long, what stories should we eliminate and what should we keep? But as soon as I got the first version of the script, I realized how good it actually had the opportunity to be."

Ingemansson said they had carte blanche to make changes, and they spent a lot of time simply figuring out what material from the book had to go.

"We took creative liberty and did some rewriting, adding stories in order to make the story more suitable for a film and the narrative of a feature," Ingemansson said.

Herngren shot the flashback sequences first, which Gustafsson found helpful.


"I had the opportunity to get to know Allan as an old man better, since I had started to play the role of Allan when he was younger," the actor said. "Since Felix wanted to build the film's expression around Allan, he invited me to freely influence the script. We started to improvise and test various physical and verbal expressions."

Gustafsson, who's just 50, spent five hours in the makeup chair transforming into the old man.

"When I stepped out of the trailer and met Felix at 7 a.m. and he said, 'Good morning,' for me it was lunch time," he said. "We started makeup at 3 a.m., which meant that I got about two to four hours of sleep per night."

Jonasson, who never read the script or saw any of the rough cut, didn't watch the completed film until Herngren sent him a digital file a week before the film premiered in Sweden in late 2013.

"I got this text message on the phone," Herngren said. "He said, 'Felix, I have seen the film three times. After the first screening I got a shock. It was completely different from the book. I saw it one more time directly after and then I thought the film was OK. After the third time at 3 this morning, I loved the film.' "

Twitter: @mymackie