Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Hannes Holm
Stars: Rolf Lassgard, Bahar Pars, Tobias Almborg, Filip Berg, Ida Engvoll, Chatarina Larsson, Borje Lundberg, Klas Wiljergard.
This Oscar-nominated Swedish comedy about a socially awkward grumpy old man rediscovering his humanity and the sense of community is essentially Gran Torino with subtitles. A Man Called Ove is a life affirming tale. At first I thought it was going to be a Scandinavian variation of the perennial Christmas classic It’s A Wonderful Life, but this is a more complex tale of hope, optimism and finding one’s own nascent humanity. And it’s all tinged with generous doses of quirky humour.
Based on Fredrik Backman’s best- selling novel from 2013, it has become one of the biggest box office hits in Sweden and was that country’s official entry into the Best Foreign Language category at the Oscars earlier this year. It is a poignant but crowd-pleasing comedy with universal appeal that should resonate strongly with audiences.
Ove (played by Rolf Lassgard, best known for playing Wallander in the original Swedish tv series) is about to turn 60. He is recently widowed having lost his beloved wife Sonja (Ida Engvoll) to cancer. He has also lost his job to automaton after 47 years of working for the railway. Ove is a curmudgeon, a grouchy self-appointed guardian of the gated residential community in which he resides. He was once the head of the body corporate until he was ousted in a “coup” after the residents grew tired of his nitpicking and strict enforcement of by-laws, and he still feels bitter resentment. Every morning he does his rounds of the estate, chiding people for driving too fast, writing down the number plates of cars parked wrong. But the lonely Ove has decided that he has had enough and sets about trying to kill himself, but every attempt is comically thwarted.
New neighbours move in next door. Initially Ove detests the presence of Parvenah (Bahar Pas), a pregnant Iranian woman, her husband Patrik (Tobias Almborg), and their two children. But slowly their presence it is the catalyst for Ove to emerge from his self-imposed funk and depression. Parvenah shows him kindness and she brings out the best in him. His dour demeanour starts to thaw as he reluctantly agrees to teach Parvenah to drive. And he even babysits her two daughters. And he also slowly begins to transform the lives of others within his community.
A series of extended flashbacks give us insights into Ove’s tragic history and his inner turmoil and his relationship with the understanding and patient Sonja. They show why he has developed such a dour disposition and a dislike for bureaucracy and force us to re-evaluate our initial impression. These flashbacks give the grumpy character a much more human touch and gradually enable the audience to empathise with him as we discover that he had a passion for tackling injustices.
The Shakespearean-trained Lassgard moves out of his comfort zone with this rare foray into comedy, and he completely inhabits the character. He delivers a nicely complex and empathetic performance as the initially unlikeable Ove, but he effectively strips away the layers of this complex character. Buried under layers of makeup that age him effectively (and which earned the film an Oscar nomination for makeup) Lassgard is virtually unrecognisable. He has a strong presence and an expressive face. Pars has an appealing and warm presence as Parvenah, who shows Ove what it means to have a family, and helps him rediscover his real compassionate and caring nature.
This black comedy is deftly handled by veteran Swedish director Hannes Holm (Behind Blue Skies, etc), who maintains a nice balance between pathos, the dead pan comedy, and the saccharine. The film is a touch manipulative, but not overtly so. The film touches on some important themes like loneliness, the need for personal connections, the plight of immigrants and people with disabilities.
The film has been warmly lit and shot by cinematographer Goran Hallberg, who also shot The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out A Window And Disappeared, a film which shares a few similarities with this tale. Gaute Storaas’ score is a little too sentimental and manipulative.