October 23, 2002 -- "Elling" is a funny, heartwarming tale about a couple of misfits who manage to find a way to cope in the real world after living for years in a mental institution. It is a life-affirming tale devoid of sappiness or pretention.
Elling (played by Per Christian Ellefsen) is a man who has been protected from the world all his life, first by his mother, then in a mental institition. His roommate in the institution, Kjell Bjarne (played by Sven Nordin) is a huge man who towers over Elling, but who is just as afraid of the outside world as Elling is. He lacks Elling's eloquence, but has a knack for fixing things. The giant also has a streak of kindness a mile wide. The two are removed from their comfortable existence in the institution and placed into an apartment in Oslo, given an allowance and told by their social worker, Frank Åsli (Jørgen Langhelle) they must fend for themselves, buy their own food and cook their own meals.
At first, they are afraid to even venture out of the apartment or answer the telephone or the door. Frank threatens to send them back to the institution if they don't shape up, particularly after a bout with phone sex. Their attempts to do normal, everyday things, like eat at a restaurant, have to be seen to be believed. Yet their fears and anxieties are not all that unusual, just more extreme than normal. This makes it easier to identify with Elling and Kjell's plight. As the two become braver, venturing farther away from their apartment and their routines, other conflicts arise between them, especially when Elling fears his best friend may move away when Kjell becomes friends with a neighbor, Reidun Nordsletten (Marit Pia Jacobsen). Elling also becomes jealous when Kjell moves in on his friendship with Alfons Jørgensen (Per Christensen). Despite their problems, the film is a tribute the ability of the human spirit to adapt and triumph. It is also an affirmation of the better angels of our nature.
Based on a novel by Ingvar Ambjørnsen, with a marvelous screenplay adaptation by Axel Hellstenius, the film has its share of unexpected twists and turns. The characters are developed well enough that I would have liked to have seen what happens to them in the future. All of the actors in the film give convincing performances, particularly Per Christian Ellefsen as Elling. His stiff, mechanical walk and his palpable anxiety as he navigates the streets of Oslo is a thing to behold. Petter Næss' direction is right on target in its balance of comedy and drama. This film rates a B.
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