A MAN CALLED OVE
RATED TBC / 116 MINS DIRECTOR Hannes Holm
CAST Rolf Lassgård, Bahar Pars, Filip Berg, Ida Engvoll, Tobias Almborg, Stefan Gödicke
PLOT Pedantic and irascible retiree Ove spends his days patrolling his neighbourhood for minor infractions, talking to his late wife’s grave, and hating life. But when new neighbours with young kids move in next door, he is forced to deal with the modern world again.
BASED ON THE bestselling novel by Fredrik Backman, this Swedish dramedy was nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars (but lost to Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman.)
Ove (it’s pronounced “Ooh-veh”, for the record) is a cantankerous and nitpicking old pensioner who polices his neighbours for any minor transgressions, enforcing arbitrary rules that he and an estranged friend instituted. The elderly Ove is played by Rolf Lassgård (who was Kurt Wallender in the first Swedish film series of the character) looking older than his sixty years.
Early on, we find out a bit about why he’s so cantankerous — he’s been laid off from the only job he’s ever had, and his beloved wife has died. The film proceeds on two timeframes — flashbacks that further explain how Ove has ended up such a misanthrope; and in the present, a slowly evolving détente with his new neighbours, who perhaps might redeem his view of humanity.
But it’s the way the flashbacks are presented that is the most shocking, and slyly clever, facet of the film: each of them is triggered as the despairing Ove, wanting nothing more than to be reunited with his wife, makes another suicide attempt. There have been suicide-attempt scenes in comedies before, but rarely so many. (Groundhog Day, maybe, or Better Off Dead.) Holm mines plenty of dark comedy from Ove’s luckless attempts to end it all, including demanding a refund on a length of rope, but the scenes aren’t played for laughs; in fact some scenes are fairly graphic, and if you’ve had a loved one make an attempt on their life, you may even find them too confronting.
The flashbacks each show a different time in Ove’s life, which has proceeded with a relentless metronome of torment that would test Job, often at the hands of bureaucrats (whom Ove collectively despises as “white shirts”.) But in time, of course, we learn to love Ove and understand him, even if, in truth, there’s never a completed circuit in the evolution between the more lovable and naïve young Ove (played with wide-eyed innocence by Filip Berg), and the thoroughly cranky present-day Ove.
The “grumpy old man with a secret heart of gold” story is perhaps a familiar trope —
St Vincent, Gran Torino et al — but it’s executed well here. It pivots quickly and successfully between laughter and tears and back again; and if it’s perhaps manipulative in its sentimentality, it’s still effective. Certainly there were plenty of discreetly dabbed eyes in the screening.
Ida Engvoll is irresistable as Ove’s wife Sonja, all teeth and mischief in the flashbacks of their improbable courtship. Bahar Pars is charming as the new neighbour who forces Ove to contend with modern life. Johan Widerberg is slimy perfection as the Nazi-esque “white shirt” coming for Ove’s friend Rune: “I’m only following orders,” he says knowingly. Holm leaves no stone unturned to wring every emotion out of the audience, and succeeds.
VERDICT Sweet (and Swede), very sad, very funny — it’s The Castle of Sweden. Take a handkerchief.
Ove (Rolf Lassgård) meets the new neighbours.