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A Man Called Ove (A PopEntertainment.com Movie Review)

A Man Called Ove

A Man Called Ove

A MAN CALLED OVE (2015)

Starring Rolf Lassgård, Bahar Pars, Ida Engvoll, Filip Berg, Tobias Almborg, Klas Wiljergård, Chatarina Larsson, Börje Lundberg, Stefan Gödicke, Anna-Lena Bergelin, Simeon Lindgren, Maja Rung, Fredrik Evers and Poyan Kamiri.

Screenplay by Hannes Holm.

Directed by Hannes Holm.

Distributed by Music Box Films.  116 minutes.  Rated PG-13.

Every neighborhood has one: the grumpy old guy down the street who is constantly yelling at everyone around them for real and perceived violations of community guidelines.  We usually try to avoid these curmudgeons in real life, but we are reminded that perhaps there is more behind the gruff exterior in the charming-if-slightly-manipulative Swedish film A Man Called Ove.

A Man Called Ove, which is Sweden’s entry for next year’s best foreign film Oscar, tells a well-trod storyline, but it tells it with such charm and grace, and such a sublime lead performance, that it seems fresh.  Based on a 2012 novel by Fredrik Backman, the film is at once sweet and cynical, funny and heartbreaking, shut off and yet open-hearted, gruff but strangely lovable.  Sort of like the lead character himself.

Rolf Lassgård plays the title character, a 59-year-old widower who is annoyed by the whole world.  A simple, structured man in complicated times, he acts as neighborhood watch in his little development, though the official job was taken from him in a “coup” by a former friend years before.  However, no longer being official doesn’t alter his lifestyle of stopping and scolding people for driving in non-driving areas, not picking up after their dogs, parking their bikes in the wrong areas, making too much noise, etc.

Ove has worked for the local railroad (as did his father before him) for 43 years before being told that he had to take a mandatory retirement early in the film.  He annoyedly asks “Are you firing me?” but he does not seem all that upset to lose the job, he will just miss the daily routine of going there.  His other daily routines include doing his daily inspections of the neighborhood, and visiting the grave of his late wife.

It is there, talking to his late wife Sonja (played by the luminous Ida Engvoll in flashbacks) in the green cemetery that he can finally open up and be human.  Oh, sure, he is still complaining constantly, but it is with a bit of a sparkle in his eye.  He also promises Sonja that he will be coming to be with her soon.

Ove does try, with little success, to commit suicide a few times, but bad luck and bad timing make these attempts fail.  Or perhaps he doesn’t really want to go through with it.  With an interesting framing device, the movie flashes back during his failed suicide attempts to show Ove’s history, as if it was his life flashing before his eyes before death.

Most of the failures are directly due to a new family that moved in across the way.  Parvaneh (Bahar Pars) is an Iranian-born Swede with a nice-but-ineffectual Swedish husband and two adorable young daughters.  Ove meets them first when he has to interrupt his attempt to hang himself because they have had the temerity to drive on the road despite a sign that warns no cars, eventually smashing his mailbox.  His annoyance with others breaking the rules was more important to him that his own potential death.

Despite his attempts to keep to himself, Parvaneh keeps coming over and bothering him, and strangely he starts to come to have a fatherly affection for the woman who refuses to be scared off by his natural surliness.  Her sweet daughters also work their way past his defenses.

He also finds his humanity in caring for a bedraggled-but-gorgeous stray Persian cat that has been living in the neighborhood.  Initially that seems like it could be a heavy-handed plot device, but it is handled in a subtle, sweet way.  In opening up his home to a creature that he had been trying to shoo for weeks, he gets companionship and comes to understand more about himself and others.

As I said before, it is not exactly a new story idea to have a determined loner learn to open themselves up their community, however A Man Called Ove is done with such good natured sweetness and spectacular performances that it rarely feels overly sentimental or manipulative.  I personally think the final few scenes skirt the borderlines of going too far, manipulation-wise, but in many ways the bittersweet finale feels earned and even life-affirming.  I may have personally ended Ove’s story in a slightly different way, but I cannot deny that the filmmakers’ choice does work extremely well dramatically.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2016 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: November 11, 2016.

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