Mid­dle-East roots gave star a per­sonal stake in her film’s im­mi­gra­tion theme

Ba­har Pars tells Chris New­bould why she felt a par­tic­u­lar re­spon­si­bil­ity over her role in A Man Called Ove

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wedish di­rec­tor Hannes Holm’s com­edy/drama A Man Called Ove opens with a sui­cide at­tempt. Bear­ing in mind Scan­di­na­vian cinema has a rep­u­ta­tion for bleak sto­ry­telling, au­di­ences would be for­given for ex­pect­ing a some­what dour view­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. In fact, the op­po­site is the case.

Ove Lin­dahl ( played by Rolf Lass­gård) is a 59-year-old re­tiree who is de­pressed af­ter the death of his wife.

Never hav­ing re­cov­ered from the hu­mil­i­a­tion of be­ing un­seated as chair­man of the neigh­bour­hood as­so­ci­a­tion by Rune, his deputy and neme­sis, he re­solves to make the lives of his neigh­bours mis­er­able by per­ni­ciously up­hold­ing ev­ery mi­nor com­mu­nity rule and reg­u­la­tion.

Then Par­vaneh, the ma­tri­arch of a fam­ily of Ira­nian im­mi­grants, en­ters Ove’s life and slowly coaxes him out of his self-im­posed iso­la­tion, in this

Squirky, feel-good com­edy, which is the lat­est film screen­ing as part of the Dubai In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val 365 @ Vox pro­gramme.

It was nom­i­nated for two Os­cars this year – for For­eign Lan­guage Film ( los­ing to As­ghar Farhadi’s The Sales­man) and Best Make up and Hairstyling. It has also picked up an arm­ful of awards in its na­tive Swe­den. While the movie is light­hearted, Swedish- Ira­nian ac­tress Ba­har Pars, who plays Par­vaneh, says she felt a re­spon­si­bil­ity given the de­bate on im­mi­gra­tion rag­ing in Europe. “The main thing I was think­ing was how to not make Par­veneh so stereo­typed as she is in the book [by Fredrik Back­man on which the film is based],” says Pars. “She was very sim­ple in the book, which was much more about Ove and ev­ery­one else was in­ci­den­tal.

“I wanted to avoid cliché, es­pe­cially be­cause she’s Irani- an, so that was im­por­tant to me. We had a lot of con­ver­sa­tions, from the clothes she’d wear to how she’d speak, body lan­guage and so on. I was wor­ried at first [ the pro­duc­ers and di­rec­tor] might not lis­ten to me – it’s not like I’m that fa­mous – but they did and I re­ally re­spected that.”

Pars adds that there is a large com­mu­nity of Ira­nian ac­tors in Swe­den.

“There are all dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tions of Ira­nian ac­tors here,” she says. “But we all share the ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing in a for­eign coun­try and the ex­pe­ri­ence of a de­gree of stereo­typ­ing in terms of the roles we are of­fered. It is chang­ing, though not that fast, so we do feel a sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity, not just for Ira­ni­ans but also for all im­mi­grants, and even for Swedish peo­ple who may not have any im­mi­grant friends.”

From this per­spec­tive, the cul­tural ex­pe­ri­ence of liv­ing in the re­gion might give UAE au­di­ences a dif­fer­ent viewpoint on the film and the is­sues it raises, com­pared with au­di­ences in Europe. Pars agrees, but points out that, ul­ti­mately, the themes and char­ac­ters are uni­ver­sal.

“It will be in­ter­est­ing to see how Mid­dle Eastern au­di­ences re­act,” she says. “Ev­ery­one in Swe­den knows some­one like Ove. He’s very much a cul­tural thing – but equally that idea of a grumpy old man is uni­ver­sal. My dad said he re­minds him of him­self, so I think ev­ery­one will recog­nise the char­ac­ter.

“A lot of peo­ple re­ally re­late to Par­vaneh, too. I didn’t re­alise that till af­ter I’d seen the film and au­di­ence re­ac­tions and that kind of sur­prised me.”

Pars ad­mits that the film’s suc­cess came as a sur­prise – it is the high­est-gross­ing do­mes­tic film in Swedish cinema his­tory. The Os­car recog­ni­tion was par­tic­u­lar- ly un­ex­pected. “We were all re­ally sur­prised by the Os­car nom­i­na­tions,” she says. “It’s ba­si­cally a com­mer­cial feel-good film. Swe­den tra­di­tion­ally comes from the [Ing­mar] Bergman cul­ture, where cinema has to be very deep and mean­ing­ful, and fes­ti­vals tend to be the same – but some­thing just hap­pened with this. We hadn’t ex­pected it at all.”

Pars clearly en­joyed the Academy Awards ex­pe­ri­ence, even though “it was re­ally cold in there, there was too much air con­di­tion­ing”, she says with a laugh.

“The lo­gis­tics were amaz­ing, I’ve never seen any­thing like it,” she adds. “Ev­ery­thing just worked out per­fectly. That’s why I liked it when they made the mis­take about the best film and an­nounced the wrong one [ Moon­light’s award was ini­tially wrongly given to La La Land], be­cause ev­ery­thing had just been too per­fect. Noth­ing can be that per­fect, so I like it when you see holes in the per­fec­tion.”

is show­ing at Vox Cin­e­mas, Mall of the Emi­rates, Dubai, un­til June 1. For more de­tails, visit uae.vox­cin­e­mas.com

Cour­tesy Mu­sic Box Films

Rolf Lass­gård and Ba­har Pars in A Man Called Ove.

Cour­tesy Diff

Ira­nian-Swedish ac­tress Ba­har Pars.

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