While death is a constant in My Life as a Dog, it's never sensationalized as a morbid curiosity or gimmick. Instead, Hallström focuses on the ripples of mortality, how Ingemar connects his personal anguish with experiences of loss from supporting characters. Ingemar spends much of the story observing other people suffer from various ailments, his mother being the obvious example, but also in the case of a bedridden elderly man living with his Uncle Gunnar (Tomas von Brömssen). It's as if proximity to the process of death is more important than the event itself (we don't see either character die). Whether Ingemar is bringing his mother breakfast in bed or reading aloud to the decrepit old man from a woman's underwear catalogue, there's a focus on the nuances of wrinkled skin, frail hands, or skeletal bone structure, and how Ingemar views these details in from the vantage point of a child.
The cinema of Lasse Hallström, always toeing the fragile line between sincere tenderness and full-blown schmaltz, is most affecting when immersed in the complexities of childhood experience. My Life as a Dog remains the best representation of Hallström's filmmaking prowess, a wondrous children's story that organically overlaps the magic of youth with the harsh realities of impending adulthood. In the story of Ingemar (Anton Glanzelius), an inquisitive young boy forced to spend the summer in the countryside so his sickly mother can recuperate from tuberculosis, Hallström foreshadows the themes of isolation, mortality, and compassion he would further develop in his best American film, What's Eating Gilbert Grape? Instead of sentimentalizing Ingemar's emotional highs and lows, My Life as a Dog relishes the ambiguities inherent to his impressionable gaze, the gaps in his memory that seem as natural and cyclical as the changing seasons.
You’ll recognize the director of my pick for February’s blind spot movie, Lasse Hallström, from such fare as The Cider House Rules and Chocolat. I too have seen these and while they didn’t linger as powerful films in my memory I remember them as well-made character driven stories. After being nominated for an Academy Award for writing and directing in 1985 and winning Best Foreign Film at the Golden Globes, My Life As A Dog became the stepping stone from which Hallström made his way into the American film industry. A Swedish film, there are many reasons to have watched My Life As A Dog, but I chose it not for its illustrious pedigree, but because the title intrigued me.