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Dead Calm: Hans Petter Moland’s “A Somewhat Gentle Man”

Dead Calm: Hans Petter Moland's "A Somewhat Gentle Man"

The use of the word “somewhat” in this film’s title is telling. The Norwegian drama A Somewhat Gentle Man, for all the things it is, is precious few of them to an extreme degree. It is, for instance, a tale of redemption, though this doesn’t feel like its focal point; similarly, Ulrik, the title character, played by Stellan Skarsgård, takes steps toward reform better measured in inches than feet. Hans Petter Moland’s film is either a jack of all trades, master of none—well-rounded but unclear in its overall intentions—or an experiment in balance whose results are difficult to ascertain.

This balancing act can be felt most clearly in the character of Ulrik himself. Whatever internal goings-on color his calm, hard-to-read exterior reveal themselves indirectly, if at all. We are introduced to Ulrik, in the opening shot, via an extended close-up of his tired, lined face moments before he is to be released from prison after serving a twelve-year sentence for murder. Quickly thereafter, Ulrik establishes himself as being not dissimilar from most other semi-reformed convicts around whom films such as this revolve: despite his past, any violent behavior on Ulrik’s part tends to manifest itself in as chivalrous and dignified a manner as possible. Unlike other such characters, however, no hints are made toward a storm just beneath Ulrik’s cool surface; what dark secrets he may harbor remain out of reach. Read Michael Nordine’s review of A Somewhat Gentle Man.

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