“My Life as a Dog” is neither about a dog nor a person turning into one. Rather, it’s about a 1960s Swedish boy who recollects his bittersweet boyhood. His name is Ingemar (Anton Glanzelius) and he longs for the silly throwback times when he can make his mother laugh. But oh those days seem to remain alive in his memory. Ever since his mother coughed up blood, Ingemar is no longer deemed as the source of entertainment. He has become a chore; he’s too much to handle for an ailing mother. And so, young Ingemar is sent away to the country, to live with his uncle for the time being.

This foreign film is an early gem from Lasse Hallström, who has helmed such award-attention films like “The Cider House Rules” and “Chocolat.” One of his strengths is capturing the spirit of a provincial community and here, he produces a quirky circle who welcomes the sad and lonely Ingemar. Among the noted residents are the town’s blonde bombshell, a corset catalogue reader, a persistent roof builder, and a punchy girl passing as a boy.

While the cast is quite endearing; it is the child actor that commands the screen. Anton Glanzelius is not a cloyingly cute kid, but his personality (particularly his pondering) comes off as adorable. He hits a lot of precise and innocent notes from wag-tail bliss to lick-wounded heartaches. He makes Ingemar one of the most unforgettable coming-of-age characters.

The curious thing for me is to why Ingemar would refer to himself as a dog. In the movie, there are two dogs he thought of the most. There’s his beloved Sickan, who was left behind when he moved. And then there’s Laika, the launched Soviet dog which did not return from space. My guess is that he has conjured up the idea that to be a dog is to be alone. And while Ingemar thinks of himself as abandoned, we, the audience, join him in the communal recognition of loneliness. It’s a beautiful, poignant moment of being together alone.

Grade: A-

Anton Glanzelius, Anki Liden, Tomas Von Bromssen, Melanie Kinnaman, and Leif Ericson
Based on the novel by
Reidar Jonsson
Screenplay by
Lasse Hallström, Reidar Jonsson, Brasse Brannstrom and Per Berglund
Directed by
Lasse Hallström
Rated PG-13

A Scene From the Movie: