A Man Called Ove (En man som heter Ove)
Sweden (2015) Dir. Hannes Holm
If people are grumpy, maybe there is a reason for this, but how many of us are either too intimidated or simply put off by someone’s gruff and belligerent behaviour to find out what that reason is? Based on the novel by Fredrik Backman of the same name, Hannes Holm explains why neighbourly concern has its rewards.
Ove Lindahl (Rolf Lassgård) is a 59-year-old widower with a bad temper and a stickler for the rules, causing many headaches in his small neighbourhood. After working in the same job since he was 16, Ove is forced into retirement by his bosses which send him into a rage-fuelled depression. Missing his recently deceased wife and losing his patience with everyone around him, Ove makes to the decision to kill himself.
The first attempt to hang himself is interrupted when newly arriving neighbours – Swede Patrick (Tobias Almborg), his pregnant Persian wife Parvaneh (Bahar Pars) and their young daughters (Nelly Jamarani and Zozan Akgun) – crash into his post box, infuriating Ove enough to abandon his suicide and park the car for them. Over time, Parvaneh helps Ove get over his loss and gives him a new lease on life.
Despite the dour sounding plot, this is an uplifting comedy-drama, the comedy veering into black territory more often than not. The best example of this would be Ove returning a rope to a hardware store, complaining about its uselessness after it broke during a hanging attempt! There may not be a hint of irony in bull-headed Ove’s actions but luckily for the audience, it is a joke we can get in on from the start.
In fact, we first met Ove arguing over the wording of a special offer on the flowers he is buying to take to his wife’s grave, reasoning that if two are 70 Swedish Krona then he should be able to pay 35 for one! There is a perverse logic to his thinking but most people wouldn’t have the temerity to actually makes such a petty challenge, but then again, most people aren’t Ove.
Behind this loud, boorish dyspeptic exterior lies a man with a tragic past that is revealed through intermittent flashbacks, starting with his early childhood looking up to his no-nonsense father (Stefan Gödicke) and his own experiences as a young adult (Filip Berg) who went onto become an engineer. Ove meets his future wife, trainee teacher Sonya (Ida Engvoll) on a train after he fell asleep and she paid his fine, thus beginning an enduring and loving relationship.
Even Sonya doesn’t appear to be the leveller for Ove’s uptight ways at the beginning but we know there has to be more to the story than first appears, and come the final act everything is revealed but not before we go on a journey of self discovery and realisation that not all people are bad. Ove’s dogged enforcing of the rules in his neighbourhood are not a product of anal fastidiousness or old age truculence as we later learn, but it makes him a fun character in the first half of the film.
When the humour isn’t teetering on becoming of the gallows variety – Ove is still smarting from being ousted as community leader in favour of wheelchair bound stroke victim Rune (Börje Lundberg) – there is quite a bit of mileage coming from Ove’s Victor Meldrow-esque rants against the “idiots” that blight his day, whether they are breaking the rules or uptight “white shirts” throwing their weight around.
Hanes Holm plays his card smartly in making Ove somewhat relatable as someone most people need in their communities to ensure order is kept and stick it to the man when necessary, yet his predator-like attacks on the slightest offender, even if they are an amiable pregnant woman like Parvaneh, do dent his charm a little and paint him as an ogre.
Predictably the relationship that begrudgingly forms between Ove and Parvaneh is the start of a turning point for the old grizzly bear, but Ove never loses any of his abrasive edge and pig-headedness and it doesn’t happen overnight in spite of the occasional contrivance driving the scenarios. Behind the bolshie bluster is a man who can see the best in people and point them in the right direction, it is just his methods that leave a lot to be desired.
The is a subtle melancholic undercurrent to this story, mostly suggested through Ove’s daily visits to Sonya’s grave for a chat/rant yet the tone never gets too bleak or overwhelmingly sentimental – although things border on the latter in the final act, complete with mawkish musical soundtrack to tease our emotions and ensure there isn’t a dry eye in the house, a potential misstep for anyone enjoying the barbed nature of the film prior to this.
Rolf Lassgård may be known to most as TV’s first Wallander and similar detective roles under the Nordic Noir umbrella and certainly, many of the same dogmatic characteristics are present in Ove, suffused with a sardonic streak to take the strain of his serious side. I don’t think anyone else could have taken this role and made it feel so definitive, and if it was to be remade in Hollywood, you just know it would be with someone more rugged like De Niro or Nicholson.
Being a story of redemption, Ove’s chemistry with the secondary characters is vital and Bahar Pars is a wonderfully spirited foil for Lassgård as Parvaneh. Filip Berg is a credible younger version of Ove, despite the lack of physical similarities, the essence of the foundation of older Ove is there, working nicely in tandem with Ida Engvoll’s spirited portrayal of Sonya.
A Man Called Ove is surprisingly breezy given the more compelling elements of its story, but the message of hope, determination and making changes for the better ring out loud and clear, resulting in a delightfully charming and potent life-affirming drama with a cheeky and often subversive comic flair.