First Look Pictures // R // $14.99 // July 22, 2003
Review by Randy Miller III | posted September 16, 2004
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Although I can count the number of Norwegian films I've seen on one hand, it's safe to say I've enjoyed them all so far. Insomnia---the 1997 original, not the Pacino/Williams version---is one of my favorite films of the last decade: with a dark, brooding atmosphere and great characters, there's a lot to love about it (although I enjoy the American remake as well). Elling, on the other hand, is quite a different kind of film. It was originally released in 2001 and even nominated for a Foreign Language Oscar that year, but was beaten by the very deserving Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Still, Elling is a charming film with tons of laughs, and one of the most entertaining foreign films I've seen in some time.

Directed by Petter Næss and based on the novel by Ingvar Ambjørnsen, Elling is a refreshing change from most "odd couple" comedies. Thankfully, though, it never seems preachy or heavily sentimental, though the two lead characters (Elling and Kjell Bjarne) are likeable and---on a certain level---easy to identify with. These two became friends while living in a state home, and the story basically begins after they've been released into "normal" society. They're soon paired up in government welfare housing, and do their best to fit in with the rest of the world. For the most part, they don't do half bad, although some of their successes can be attributed to dumb luck (hey, some most of mine can too!). Still, it's their charm and, shall we say, "excessive" personality that make the story work. From trouble with shopping to trouble with the opposite sex, Elling is a story that's both familiar and unique, but it's a great film that any lover of comedy---foreign or domestic---can enjoy. The simplicity of everything is what gives this film its charm, but there's a few other factors that make things click.

The most notable factor is the superb performances by the two lead characters, Elling (Per Christian Ellefsen) and Kjell (Sven Nordin). While they don't hold back with the occasional slapstick, the gestures and emotion portrayed by both really make their respective characters stand out. Although a few of the supporting players are also good, this is clearly a two-man show; luckily, both Ellefsen and Nordin are skilled enough to make things work. Another memorable part of the film is the location shooting: while some would consider the locale quite ordinary, I found the "realism" of the environment to be one of the film's many charms.

While the language and brief sexual content didn't hinder my enjoyment of the film in the least, it's worth noting that this generally isn't a film aimed at your average American family. Still, neither seems gratuitous and actually give the film an additional layer of realism---in most cases, the lack of such content makes similar comedies seem watered-down, regardless of who they're aimed at.

In any case, Elling is a great film that shouldn't be ignored any longer. Although the DVD was actually released in 2003, it's still ripe for the picking and should be hunted down by any lover of comedies or foreign films. The disc itself has been brought to us by First Look Media, although it's a little lacking for the most part. Still, the film itself is strong enough to get this one over the hump...so let's see how this one stacks up, shall we?

Quality Control Department

Video & Audio Quality:

Sadly, this film hasn't been given anamorphic enhancement, but at least the original 1:78:1 aspect ratio has been preserved. While it lacks the additional punch that anamorphic transfers usually have, this is still a decent visual presentation overall. The color palette is generally muted and slightly murky (typical for most European films), and image detail and contrast is passable. There's a bit of dirt and grain that pops up, but the transfer seems fairly clean and in good shape. While I'm sure the overall presentation could have been a little sharper, it's still a pleasing effort that won't hinder your enjoyment of this film in the least.

Similarly, the 2.0 Stereo track is of adequate quality. While it lacks an overall ambience and strong musical cues, the audio mix for Elling is on par for most comedies. It won't blow you away by any means, but dialogue and music come through clearly---in all honesty, I doubt a 5.1 mix could have really improved things. English subtitles are included, but actually seem to be burned into the picture; while I'd never watch the film without them, it seems strange to force them upon the viewer.

Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging:

The presentation is also a little lackluster here, but it's got the basics covered. The static menu designs are simple and easy to use, making for quick navigation. The 90-minute film is divided into 22 chapters, with no discernable layer change. Packaging is also fairly standard, as Elling is housed in a black keepcase with a bright cover design. No insert is included, although a small scene index is printed on the back cover.

Bonus Features:

Unfortunately, no real extras have been included here...only a handful of Trailers (for Elling and a few other releases by First Look). I'd have loved to hear some sort of commentary by the cast and crew, even if only as a subtitle option. While I'm glad that this film actually scored a Region 1 release at all, it's hard not to want more extras on a disc that's a little lacking.

Final Thoughts

Good movie, slightly disappointing DVD. While I really wasn't expecting a top-notch release, the lack of anamorphic enhancement and bonus features dragged this release down a little. Still, this was a highly amusing comedy, and the movie should always be a DVD's selling point. Despite the problems with this disc, it's not likely that we'll get a Special Edition anytime in the next decade. With a very reasonable price tag of $15, Elling is a safe addition to any great DVD collection. Recommended.

Randy Miller III is an affable art instructor hailing from Harrisburg, PA. To fund his DVD viewing habits, he also works on freelance graphic design and illustration projects. In his free time, Randy enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.

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