A Man Called Ove (Sweden 2015) dir. Hannes Holm (116 mins) Trailer Cinema 21
Ove (Rolf Lassgård) is a grumpy, cranky fellow 59 years of age. To say that he has a rigid sense of right and wrong is akin to noting that Donald Trump has at best a passing acquaintance with truthfulness. First thing each morning Ove makes his rounds of the neighborhood, leaving a terse note when a rule of the community association has been violated, locking up a bike left in a prohibited spot, closing gates left open, picking up cigarette butts, going through the recycle bins to remove items improperly sorted, snarling at dogs, cats, and neighbors, muttering repeatedly, "idiots." All in all Ove is not what we might anticipate of the protagonist in what turns out be a sweet and touching film, a genuine delight.
Each day Ove visits the grave of his wife, Sonja, and chats with her a bit. It is his intent to join her, but attempts at suicide, for which he dons suit and tie, fail when he is interrupted by some idiot or a little girl happens to peer through the window as he is readying the noose or, after he pulls down the blinds to try again, the rope breaks. Furious he returns the rope to the hardware store complaining that it was advertised for any use. When the clerk innocently asks what he used it for, he glares at her, mutters, "idiot," and storms away.
The suicide attempts are accompanied by flashbacks that tell the story of Ove's life, running through boyhood, the death of his father in a rail yard accident, being hired at the rail yard at age 16 to replace his father in a position he holds until he is let go as the film begins, and of course Sonja. He is a socially awkward, unsophisticated young man when they meet in an improbable fashion. What follows is a lovely love story.
Meantime things come up. New neighbors move in across the street, Patrik, a rather hapless but likable husband, pregnant wife Parvaneh (Bahar Pars), an Iranian refugee, and excellent cook, and their two young daughters. What follows may be predictable but is nonetheless endearing as Lassgård and Pars strike every note just right. Slowly, grudgingly, Ove is drawn into a beautiful friendship when Parvaneh sends the girls over with a container of leftover Persian food, when she asks him to look after the girls while she and Patrik go out, when she convinces him to teach her to drive.
After a while Ove is repairing a bicycle for a boy who wants to impress the girl who owns it and taking into his home the boy's coworker, "one of those gay guys," whose father kicked him out when he came out. Finally, he reconciles with his neighbor and estranged friend Rune, who suffers from dementia. Ove leads a campaign to save Rune from the clutches of "the white shirts," his term for the bureaucrats who decree that Rune be institutionalized against his wife's wishes. When it seems the battle is lost, Parvaneh helps Ove learn that you cannot cope with the world all by yourself—and you do not have to.
A Man Called Ove has a touch of the absurdist sensibility of The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (2013) but is more restrained and is the more serious film. When at last Ove opens up to Parvaneh, he tells her that before Sonja there was nothing, and after her nothing. It is a joy to watch as Parvaneh's simple acts of kindness and caring bring something into Ove's life again.
Memo from the Editorial Desk
Rolf Lassgård played Kurt Wallander in several Swedish television adaptations of Henning Mankell's novels and stories.
A minor revision was made to this piece after it was posted as your oft humbled scribe again fell prey to his habit of thinking too much and not nearly well enough.