A MAN CALLED OVE

Empire (Australasia) - - On.Screen - RICH YEAGER

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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.

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