DIR/WRI: Hannes Holm • PRO: Annica Bellander, Nicklas Wikström Nicastro • DOP: Göran Hallberg • ED: Fredrik Morheden• DES: Jan Olof Ågren • MUS: Gaute Storaas • CAST: Rolf Lassgård, Bahar Pars, Filip Berg
To describe the plot of A Man Called Ove is to describe any number of movies involving grumpy old men. An irascible elderly man feels alienated from the modern world, usually venting his frustrations on a tedium that is relatable to the viewer, such as shopping. We learn that their anger stems from an irrevocable tragedy, most often bereavement, and it takes the love of some well-meaning, kind individuals to help the protagonist emerge from his shell and appreciate life once more. Same old song and dance. The titular misanthrope to this Swedish comedy resembles so many who came before him, such as Toni Erdmann, About Schmidt, and even family films like Up can’t escape from the bitter septuagenarians. If these redemptive stories of learning to love life once more are so recurrent, it could be forgiven for erroneously marking A Man Called Ove as just another to add to the list.
Based on the hugely successful novel by Fredrik Backman, A Man Called Ove bears its strengths in its darker, incongruous tone. While following formula and exploring the life of its protagonist, Ove (Rolf Lassgård), each flashback is laced with an ironic sting that suggests the only method for Ove to learn how to love life is for him to try and end it. Ove has given up on life; having lost his wife, his job, and his position of authority in his local community. Each attempt brings him back to another point in his life, yet each time he finds his efforts thwarted or ended abruptly by his new neighbours across the road. Similarly to As Good as it Gets, Ove renews his reasons to go on through the help of a young woman, Parvaneh (Bahar Pars), who wishes to learn how to drive before the arrival of her third child.
The use of suicide as a narrative device is a refreshing twist to the story, one that works well against the saccharine, overdramatic background to Ove’s past. Methodically directed by Hannes Holm, the tonal discrepancy between past and present complement one another perfectly; often with the stylistic sense of having two separate movies blended seamlessly together. Known primarily through his roles in crime thrillers such as The Hunters, Rolf Lassgård works incredibly well as a comedic presence. The script, also written by Holm, allows Lassgård ample opportunity to deliver uninhibited nuances to a rather common archetype. A scene in which an emotionally unstable Ove hears his wife’s voice fill the house once again is dramatic gold and Lassgård doesn’t fail to deliver a touching vulnerability to the character.
It’s a shame that as the film’s second and third acts are underway, that the unique charm A Man Called Ove offers slowly dissipates. Gone is the irony and the darker tones, gradually becoming a more standard, albeit heart-warming, affair about overcoming loss and loving life. The balance between both stories gradually suffers as Ove’s arc in present day is settled far before Ove in the past is able to do likewise. As such, the film meanders with gratuitous plot point after gratuitous plot point until it can eventually reach the underwhelming and predictable climax. Most unnecessary of all is the ludicrous inclusion of an unambiguous villain, simply known as ‘white shirt’ (Johan Widerberg) who tries to send Ove’s lifelong friend into a nursing home through bureaucratic intervention.
Despite its flaws, A Man Called Ove still manages to deliver an emotionally satisfying experience through its charming and compelling cast who help elevate the material to an enjoyable standard. If Holm’s film recalls anything by its conclusion, it’s most likely to be 2015’s Look Who’s Back, where the overwhelming popularity of its source is simply lost in translation between novel and film. Nevertheless, A Man Called Ove remains an easy and watchable comedy but fails to compete with the other contenders for Best Foreign Film at the 89th Academy Awards.
15A (See IFCO for details)
A Man Called Ove is released 30th June 2017