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Man Called Ove, ASweden 2015
Directed by Hannes Holm
Running time 116 minutes
Synopsis: Ove (Rolf Lassgård), a grumpy old widower living in a down-market housing estate is humanized when a young family moves in next door.
Sweden’s entry into this year’s Academy Awards Best Foreign Film category, A Man Called Ove, is very much a spiritual companion to the currently screening, also Oscar-nominated German film, Toni Erdmann. Perhaps it’s indicative of the spirit of the times, at least in Northern Europe, but both films are st once stories of personal re-evaluation and pointed social commentaries. Hannes Holm’s film does not go for absurdist comedic moments as did Toni Erdmann but both films are journeys of, at least modest, personal transformation. In this respect A Man Called Ove arguably has more emotional poignancy and psychological credibility although pound for pound both films deliver a similar quotient of satisfaction.
Much of the film’s success is down to writer/director Hannes Holm's adroit handling of the low-key material (which is taken from a Swedish best-seller by Frederick Backman) as he deftly balances our engagement with the present day Ove, a fairly unpleasant old coot, an essential kindness notwithstanding, and the flashbacks, often following on from Ove’s failed suicide attempts, which take us back to key moments in his life and which let us know the person behind the abrasive exterior.
In this way, we come to better understand Ove, our attitude towards him softening as indeed he himself softens due to his involvement with the messy everyday lives of his young neighbours. Fortunately this is done with well-judged wry humour, whether it be in Ove’s continually interrupted attempts to disconnect from his mortal coil or a running joke about the merits of Saabs over Volvos.
As well as it is done here, however, the trouble with this type of film is that its journey of transformation is predicated on the unfailing forbearance, nay indulgence, of the characters around our unappealing protagonist. Thus, despite Ove’s downright abusiveness, his principal target, a pregnant Iranian neighbour (Bahar Pars) remains indefatigably affable towards him. And she is only the most obvious example of a seemingly universal toleration of and willingness to engage with an individual who in real life would have long since destroyed the good-will, if not basic civility, of people around him. . .
In keeping with this, Ove’s recently-deceased wife who is seen in flashback only as a young woman (Ida Engvoll) is both compellingly beautiful and unrelentingly vivacious. Why, one wonders, would she saddle herself with a pasty, insecure, worry-wart like Ove? Such filmic contrivances weaken the efficacy of the film's moral. But hey, in the spirit of the film itself, let’s lighten up a bit. After all. not everything that comes out of Sweden needs the Bergman seal of approval and there is still a good deal of genuine empathy generated for Ove who has had more than his share of sorrow.
A Man Called Ove is a nicely crafted film, quietly moving with a characteristically Scandinavian sense of understated black humour.