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A Man Called Ove

By Movie Review, 2016-09-19

A Man Called Ove is Swedish director Hannes Holm’s irresistible adaptation of Fredrik Backman’s bestselling novel of same title. It’s a heartwarming tale about a stubborn, short-tempered but, somehow, lovable man named Ove (Rolf Lassgard). He’s a curmudgeon, the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and thinks most people are idiots - and tells them so. He’s the terror of his suburban neighborhood, where he used to be the chairman of the residents’ association. Although voted out, he continues to patrol the alleys and the walkways, blithely disposing of wrongly parked bikes and throwing shoes at stray cats. The film’s flashbacks show us that, behind the cranky, crusty exterior there is a story, a sadness, genuine goodness and even heroism.

Via one flashback we learn that Ove worshipped his father a man who hugged him only once, upon saving him from a collision with a train. We learn as well that he met his future wife the lovely, vibrant Sonja on a train. She helps him to overcome his lack of education (he studies to become an engineer) and to look forward to the birth of their first child. Two tragedies accompany their bond, and are the principal causes of his current curmudgeonly nature, even leading to failed suicide attempts. (Each attempt sparks a long flashback, revealing more and more of his back-story and making Ove more sympathetic.)

When one November morning a chatty young wife and husband with two young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove's mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unexpected friendship (and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul.). The wife is the practical, pregnant Parvaneh (Bahar Pars) and the hopelessly unhandy husband is Patrik. They give Ove a new lease on life, as does an unwanted street-scarred cat. Parvenah gets him to try her Persian cooking, specifically rice with saffron, and to realize that not all the world insists on meat and two vegetables. She takes no nonsense from Ove and even talks him into given her driving lessons.

The film is filled with humor, Swedish-style, such as Ove’s championing of his country’s Saab autos over other people’s Volvos. Even his suicide attempts end humorously (when a noose breaks, the rope is returned to the store for a refund). Lassgard and Pars stand out in an excellent cast. The Shakespearen actor Lassgard's imperious, slightly paunchy, somewhat formal Ove seems far older than 59 and his grumbling and finger pointing linger in the mind long after you leave the theater. As the next door passionate and opinionated Persian woman, Pars takes what might, in other hands, have been a stereotype and creates a warm, likable real person. As wife Sonja the beautiful Ida Engvoll lights up the screen with her smile.

A Man Called Ove is highly recommended. This charming film is Sweden's entry for the Academy Awards. It is in Swedish with English subtitles.


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