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Norwegian pair is really mismatched in 'Elling'

Friday, August 09, 2002

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Film Critic

It's too simplistic to call Elling and Kjell the Norwegian "Odd Couple," but that's what they are -- among other things.


RATING: PG in nature for language and adult themes

STARRING: Per Christian Ellefsen, Sven Nordin, Marit Pia Jacobsen

DIRECTOR: Petter Naess


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Chief among the other things is that they've been longtime roommates at a mental hospital, just released under the watchful eye of a social worker to see if they can make it on their own in a "real-world" apartment.

It won't give away the ending, or anything else, to tell you in advance that they do -- and that director Petter Naess has fashioned a lovely, prickly path for them in the process of doing so.

Elling (Per Christian Ellefsen)? A delicate, fussy creature dragged out of a closet and into an institution after his beloved mother's death.

Kjell (Sven Nordin)? A huge, horny "retard" assigned to the bed next door.

No two could be more -- or less -- compatible.

"Mother handled practical matters at home," Elling informs one of his doctors. "I was in charge of ideology."

Kjell has never been in charge of anything -- except now, upon his discovery of how to make 900-number sex line calls.

Suddenly, and more importantly, he discovers a pregnant neighbor (Marit Pia Jacobsen). And his concern for her drives Elling to fits of jealous rage.

Director Naess' take on the problem is uncharacteristically upbeat, in Nordic terms.

"We only live once," the social worker opines.

"I hope so," Elling replies. "The concept of reincarnation troubles me."

Some people ski solo to the South Pole, he says: "I have to summon all my courage to cross the restaurant floor to [go to] the men's room."

That particular restaurant scene is an absolute gem -- but so, for that matter, are all of the film's Oscar-and-Felix meet "Rain Man" moments.

Elling aspires (and actually turns out) to be the mysterious underground sauerkraut poet "E" -- proving once and for all that madness is poetry's richest source.

Barry Paris can be reached at 412-263-3859.

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