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The Criterion Collection presents
My Life as a Dog (Mitt liv som hund) (1985)

"It could have been worse. It's important to remember that."
- Ingemar (Anton Glanzelius)

Review By: Jeff Ulmer  
Published: April 16, 2003

Stars: Anton Glanzelius, Tomas von Brömssen, Anki Lidén, Melinda Kinnaman, Kicki Rundgren, Manfred Serner
Other Stars: Lennart Hjulström, Ing-Marie Carlsson, Leif Ericson, Christina Carlwind, Ralph Carlsson, Viveca Dahlén, Arnold Alfredson, Fritz Elofsson, Didrik Gustavsson, Viva Johansson, Jan-Philip Hollström, Klimpan
Director: Lasse Hallström

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (Nudity, sexuality, mature themes)
Run Time: 01h:41m:46s
Release Date: March 04, 2003
UPC: 037429173527
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A A+AA- B-

DVD Review

Before making his way to Hollywood and films such as The Cider House Rules, The Shipping News, and What's Eating Gilbert Grape?, Swedish filmmaker, Lasse Hallström had established himself in his home country with over a decade's work in television, a few features, and most notably for directing music videos for pop superstars, ABBA. His first international release, Mitt liv som hund (My Life as a Dog) would earn an Oscar® nod for his screenplay adaptation of Reidar Jönsson's autobiographical novel. This bittersweet story follows a young boy's adventures as he gets into one compounding predicament after another, dealing with the never-ending barrage of mishaps he must endure in his journey out of childhood.

Even at only twelve years old, Ingemar has his regrets. He vividly remembers a time when he was able to make his mother laugh with his stories, but now it seems he causes nothing but misery for her. She is ailing, distancing herself from her children, spending much of her time in bed or reading. With his father off in the tropics on business, Ingemar's older brother isn't much help, always edging his sibling towards one embarrassment or another, and Ingmar's unease makes him highly accident prone, exacerbating his mother's already tried patience. Ingemar tries to do his best not to make matters worse, but when her health becomes too frail, Ingemar is sent off to his uncle's house in the country, his dog and best friend, Sickan, sent to the kennel, and his brother to some other relative. Alone, he enters the strange but fascinating new life that awaits him. He befriends a collection of eccentric characters, from the elderly downstairs neighbor who employs the boy to clandestinely read him descriptions from a lingerie catalogue, to the shapely woman at the glassworks who enlists Ingemar's services as chaperone while she models in the nude for a local artist. In this new setting, Ingemar rediscovers himself with the help of his uncle and new found friend, Saga, who industriously conceals her gender to keep her position on the boys' soccer team. When the time comes to return to the city, Ingemar is bursting with stories with which he hopes to raise his mother's spirits, but his luck just doesn't seem to be on the winning side.

In a word, My Life as a Dog is brilliant. Bookmarked by returns to images from Ingemar's idealized memories, Hallström captures a perfect balance of the dramatic and humorous elements in the story, and while the tale is brutal in some of its outcomes, the narrative holds a subjective viewpoint, never crumbling into sentimentality. The humiliation begins in the opening frames, as Ingemar becomes the unwitting subject of a sex ed discussion amongst his peers. These experiences continue throughout the film and, beset by tragedy and loss, wear on the youngster's already fragile mind as he tries to cope with the predicaments that befall him. Time and again, Ingemar reminds himself of those in more dire straits than himself, trying to downplay his own misfortune, since no matter how bad things get, they could always be worse. Most frequently he likens himself to Laika, the dog sent into orbit by the Russian space program—his situation is one he has no control over, his life is in the hands of others, to be done with as they will.

The film is decidedly European in its frank approach and casual sexuality, as the opening sequence alone would have been shunned by Hollywood. Anton Glanzelius is flawless in his portrayal of Ingemar, naturally embodying the shy yet intelligent young man cast adrift by his circumstances. His child and adult costars are equally well cast, building a melange of quirky characters that color his world. The cinematography works effectively, framing the importance of each scene meticulously, from Ingemar's curious excursion into voyeurism, to the solemn reunification with his uncle later in the film. My Life as a Dog takes its place amongst the best coming-of-age stories out there: heartbreaking, hilarious, and highly rewarding.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Criterion presents My Life as a Dog in a new, high-definition anamorphic transfer, correctly windowboxed at 1.66:1. The image is wonderful, conveying the film's understated color palette with definition and clarity, and shadow detail is excellent. Grain is rendered organically, without any signs of digital interference, as are exterior elements, such as foliage, that often fall apart when compressed. There are a few blemishes in the source but these are extremely minor.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: Audio is provided in its original Swedish mono. Overall, the track is quite clean, with a natural presence, and good definition. There are a couple of places that are a little oversaturated, but this sounds like a source issue. There is nothing really noteworthy about the audio, but it fits perfectly with the picture.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 23 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Shall We Go to My Place or Your Place or Each Go Home Alone? (1973) short film by Lasse Hallström
  2. Video interview with Lasse Hallström
  3. Reflections on My Life as a Dog by Kurt Vonnegut
  4. Essay by film critic Michael Atkinson
Extras Review: A few notable extras are included, starting with a 2002 interview with the director. Running 18m:25s, Lasse Hallström touches on many points of his early career, and describes his approach to the screen adaptation. Reading from the novel, he extracts some of the themes that are central to the story, and follows with a glimpse of life in Sweden in the 1960s that permeates the film.

Along with the theatrical trailer is Hallström's first television feature (52m:42s), Shall We Go to My Place or Your Place or Each Go Home Alone? (Ska vi gå hem till dej eller till mej eller var och en till sitt?), which follows the adventures of three young men on a night in the club scene as they each pick up women to varying outcomes. In a brief interview clip, Hallström describes the highly improvised approach he employed in this 1973 film.

The insert provides an essay on My Life as a Dog by film critic Michael Atkinson, and author Kurt Vonnegut adds his view on the impact of the film in his afterword.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

Boasting a new widescreen transfer and a collection of appropriate supplements, Lasse Hallström's magnificent coming-of-age feature gets the Criterion treatment. Played with a humorous sensitivity, My Life as a Dog tells the tragic, yet heartwarming story of young Ingemar, as he confronts the adversities that besiege him, comparing his fate with that of Laika the space dog. Highly recommended.


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