Hannes Holm's small slice of Swedish life cuts through the rage and cynicism to get to you by tapping into the essence of what makes life worth living.
With so much turmoil in the world, the power of a charming little bromide like “A Man Called Ove” can’t be underestimated. Against all instincts, Hannes Holm’s small slice of Swedish life cuts through the rage and cynicism to get to you by tapping into the essence of what makes life worth living. It ain’t always easy, but the rewards are abundant if you’re willing to open your heart, something curmudgeonly old widower Ove Lindahl is initially unwilling to do.
His focus is solely on reuniting with his recently deceased wife, Sonja. And the best way to achieve that end is by ending his life. But when you’re as inept at suicide as Ove, Sonja might have a long wait ahead. Yet her loss is our gain, as Holm immerses us in the struggles of a man who feels more and more like an outsider. His once perfect life is wrought by change, as he clings desperately to the past. In that respect, the film serves as a highly perceptive take on aging, and how a man as stubborn as Ove can’t bring himself to assimilate. But it’s only a matter of time before a couple kids, an Iranian immigrant and a shaggy stray cat wear down his resistance.
You need not be a clairvoyant to foresee how “Ove” will unfold, but even though Holm dutifully telegraphs the plot’s every mechanical move, he skillfully renders the mundane fresh and insightful. He also creates a strong sense of place in and around the dozens of uniformly designed homes that serve as Ove’s entire world. It’s a gated community the taciturn Ove once ruled as homeowners’ president with an iron fist; no bike, car or pet allowed out of its designated place. But age hasn’t so much robbed Ove of power as it has robbed him of respect. Now, he’s pretty much viewed as a joke – the cranky old man yelling at kids to get off his lawn.
It’s a mindset veteran actor Rolf Lassgard fully understands, as he digs deep to flesh out a man who hides his warmth and goodness behind an angry, raging exterior. His bark is far worse than his bite, as his new neighbor, Parvaneh (a superb Bahar Pars), can clearly see in drawing Ove – with the help of her Swedish husband (Tobias Almborg) and their two adorable kids – out of his crusty shell.
To further endear Ove to us, Holm uses frequent flashbacks to movingly revisit Ove’s two most influential relationships: first as a child (Viktor Baagoe) with his wise and widowed dad (Lasse Carlsson), and later as a young man awkwardly wooing Sonja (the radiant Ida Engvoll), the beautiful schoolmarm who will teach him how to live and love. The chemistry between Engvoll and Filip Berg, who plays Ove as a young man, is as powerful as it is endearing. They make you swoon through the couple’s every up and down.
Holm knows he’s struck a goldmine with the pairing of Berg and Engvoll, and exploits it accordingly. But it’s the father-daughter machinations that Lassgard and Pars go through that enchant you most. Whether Ove is teaching Parvaneh to drive or she’s letting him hold her newborn baby for the first time, they consistently stir something deep. You’ll cry. There’s no getting around it. And those tears will well because they’re very much earned. No easy task, but Holm pulls it off with an uncanny mix of realism and truth that yield something close to motion-picture magic.
A MAN CALLED OVE (PG-13 for thematic content, some disturbing images, and language.) Cast includes Rolf Lassgard, Bahar Pars, Filip Berg and Ida Engvoll. In Swedish with English subtitles. Grade: A-