My Life as a Dog

Lasse Hallstrom's slight Swedish comedy (1985) about a boy growing up in the 50s who copes with life's many problems by identifying with Laika, the world's first dog astronaut. Like the hapless Soviet canine left in space to die, the boy seems cruelly abandoned by fate: his mother succumbs to an illness, his own dog is put to sleep, and he's summarily packed off to his uncle's house in the country, where a local tomboy gets her pubescent kicks by cuffing him around (it's the height of the Ingemar Johansson craze and everyone's into boxing). Largely a cheery riff on themes of childhood distress (the old Jackie Cooper line, “Please don't shoot my dog,” is like a deadpan subtext here), the film rarely strays from easy likability, with Hallstrom's spare, efficient styling creating a sense of chaste northern lyric (simultaneously warm and chilly: everyone wears coats in summer) familiar from early Bergman. More unassuming mongrel than pricey pedigree, but not a bad time in all. In Swedish with subtitles. PG-13, 101 min.

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