Wednesday, October 19, 2016
Review: "A Man Called Ove"
At first glance “A Man Called Ove” seems like a Swedish version of the bitter old man roles we’ve seen from the likes of Paul Newman (“Nobody’s Fool”) and Jack Nicholson (“About Schmidt”).
But really, it’s a love story. Not about falling in love, but reclaiming it.
Rolf Lassgård plays Ove, who seemingly lives solely to be a pain-in-the-tuckus, constantly insulting others and holding everyone to his own set of high standards. He’s the sort of petty authority figure who has bestowed himself with all sorts of powers, and acts as if this is something everyone has agreed upon.
Wearing the same nondescript cap and coat every day, he trudges around his orderly little village, tugging on locks to make sure they’re secure and hollering at the pet owners to keep their furry friends from piddling where they oughtn’t. Once upon a time he was chairman of the residents’ association, but his position was stripped years ago in a “coup” -- i.e., a democratic election -- and Ove clings to his bitterness like a talisman.
He has worked at the train depot for 43 years, following in his late father’s footsteps. When two young managers offer to transition him to a training program for older workers to acquire new skills, Ove cuts to the chase: Why don’t I just get up right now and leave, and make it simpler for all of us?
At age 59, Ove does not suffer fools -- a description he believes applies to virtually everyone but him.
Directed and written by Hannes Holm from the novel by Fredrik Backman, “A Man Called Ove” starts out in a very dark place and gradually moves toward the light. We sense the change and embrace it, so Ove’s evolution feels natural rather than compulsory.
After losing his job, Ove resolves to kill himself. His beloved wife, Sonja (a vibrant Ida Engvoll), passed away six months ago and with her his only connection to the happier things in life. Like many men his age and class, Ove is a hands-on sort who can fix almost anything and defines himself by his usefulness; he leaned on Sonja to be his connection to the community.
He tries suicide hanging, but is interrupted by a new family moving in across the street. The husband (Tobias Almborg) is an “idiot” (Ove’s favorite designation) who can’t even back up a car. But his wife, Parvaneh (Bahar Pars), is a headstrong woman from Iran who drops off saffron rice and enlist the older man’s in everything from babysitting her two daughters to giving driving lessons. She offers friendship, and eventually Ove responds with… irked tolerance.
(For him, that’s a breakthrough.)
Subsequent suicide attempts -- asphyxiation, shotgun, etc. -- are similarly disturbed by the intrusion of others, until it becomes a running joke. Visiting his wife’s grave daily, he promises to be with her soon… after he fixes a bicycle for a youngster, and Parvaneh’s baby is born, and so on.
Flashback sequences show us Ove as a boy (Viktor Baagøe) and later as a teenager and young man (Filip Berg). He obtained much of his blue-collar view of the world from his father (Stefan Gödicke), as well as his devotion to Saab automobiles. Later, he strikes up a friendship with a like-minded villager, but they angrily part ways over the other man’s affinity for Volvos and later -- ye gods! -- a BMW.
As the story unfolds, we discover Ove and how he became the man he is, and he rediscovers his own past and finds things there that are missing now. Here is a man who is constantly telling the story of himself, how the world is unfair and the corporate “whiteshirts” always get their way, whether it’s tearing down the family home or institutionalizing a neighbor. Ove learns he doesn’t like the yarn he’s been spinning.
“A Man Called Ove” is a splendidly acted and oddly sweet film. It’s about a miserable old wretch who wants to kill himself, and is continually foiled by other people who need him around. In seeking death, he keeps finding new reasons to live.