Elling has lived under his mother's care, or under State protection, for 40 years. But when he and Kjell, another innocent, are sent outside to live alone, they have to learn to depend on each other to get along. Their relationship is complicated, however, when a woman enters the equation.
Having already reworked Ingvar Ambjørnsen's novels for the stage, Petter Naess earned an Oscar nomination for this bittersweet study of a 40 year-old innocent who is suddenly thrust into the real world after a lifetime clinging to mummy's apron strings.
There's plenty of scope for sentiment as Elling (Ellefsen) is ensconced in an Oslo flat with doltish asylum roommate, Kjell (Nordin). But Naess concentrates on the growing curiosity and self-awareness that enables Elling to conquer the terrors of everyday life and begin writing poetry, after he becomes jealous of Kjell's relationship with lonely neighbour, Reidun (Jacobsen), and forms his own attachment to reclusive academic, Alfons (Christensen).
This is a story of small moments and wry smiles, with Ellefsen's display of tetchy timidity and ungainly egocentricity all the more impressive for its restraint.