A Man Called Ove
(Sweden, 116 min.)
Written and directed by Hannes Holm
Starring: Rolf Lassgård
What’s the Swedish translation for “Get off my lawn?” A Man Called Ove (pronounced Ové) transport Clint Eastwood’s crusty old man from Gran Torino to a peculiar little Nordic community. The only real difference between Ove (played by Rolf Lassgård) and Eastwood’s Walt Kowalski is a shotgun. But Ove will undoubtedly pack some heat in the inevitable American remake of this hugely popular Swedish hit.
A Man Called Ove offers more of the same that audiences came to love in the Swedish sleeper hit The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, but the similarity between the two is striking given that both films adapt different novels by different authors and feature different writers, directors, and producers. Maybe the bug for Hollywood formula flies overseas.
The film, which is Sweden’s contender on the shortlist for Best Foreign Language Film, recalls 100-Year-Old Man with its Forrest Gump-like structure that recounts the tumultuous life of one man who saw the world and survived far more tragedies and life-altering events than any one human being could plausibly endure. Ove reflects upon the title character’s life when the grumpy old man decides it’s finally time to kill himself after he loses his job. Ove already occupies his days with complaining about the neighbours, policing the frivolous community bi-laws, and just being an A-grade curmudgeon. He also suffers from incredible loneliness given the death of his long-time wife, which helps explain his grumpiness, crankiness, and meanness: here’s a man who is mad at the world.
Ove has few reasons to grumble, though, as the film plays the old man’s life before his eyes in the intermittent flashbacks that appear during his suicide attempts. The film cuts back to the past in which Ove (played in his youth by Filip Berg) rises from his humble background and meets his future wife, Sonja (Ida Engvoll), while playing hooky on a train. Throw in a rail accident, a bus crash, a longstanding grudge match, and his present case is easy to understand.
While Ove’s moodiness often feels forced, it ultimately has a purpose. Writer/director Hannes Holm keeps the mood light, though, and encourages Ove to look on the sunny side of life. Buoyed by a relentlessly optimistic and indefatigably plucky Palestinian neighbour Parvaneh (Bahar Pars), a new import in the community whose presence initially irks Ove until she wins him over with some spicy cooking, Ove learns to let go of the past. A droll little kitten, meanwhile, shows that this old fellow isn’t as cantankerous as he seems. The film lifts our spirits with an accessible message to lighten up.
A Man Called Ove essentially takes a rinse-and-repeat approach to the crowd-pleasing success of The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared with its structure of having an aging man look back on his life. Fans of the previous flick are bound to find this one just as amiable, while moviegoers who don’t have a taste for this kind of safe, palatable humour aren’t going to like Ove any better.
Ove mostly impresses as a mainstream comedy import that balances the cynical and the saccharine. Lassgård is perfectly cranky and affable as the grumpy Ove, though, as the film gives the curmudgeon his change of heart, while the production values are just as sturdy as the ones found in a Hollywood studio comedy. The film shows that the Swedes really have a handle on producing commercially viable films that play well overseas with crossover appeal between arthouse audiences and mainstream crowds, and it’s mostly worth as a snapshot of international filmmaking.
A Man Called Ove is now playing in limited release.