We’ve all seen the pieces of A Man Called Ove before, and all the more reason that the film’s success impresses. A curmudgeon slowly melts in the presence of good company, including children and a cat. A widower talks to his wife’s gravestone. A suicidal man repeatedly fails at offing himself. All three are a man called Ove, and his story proves both entertaining and moving.
The Swedish comedy-drama derives from Fredrik Backman’s popular 2012 novel, and in the hands of writer-director Hannes Holm and star Rolf Lassgard, the material proves surprisingly affecting. Ove (pronounced “oh-veh”) seems older than his 59 years, weighed down literally and figuratively. Still reeling from the loss of his beloved wife Sonja (Ida Engvoll), Ove lumbers around his quaint little gated community nitpicking at those not following the rules.
Ove has history—lots of it. He’s a former president of the condominium association, deposed after bad blood developed between himself and his ex-best friend. Ove was the bright boy of a loving father, in whose footsteps the son followed. Mostly, though, Ove’s history is a life well spent with Sonja, the sweetheart who became his bride of decades.
Ove keeps promising his wife he’ll join her in the great beyond, but life has a funny way of intruding on his plans. A choice selection of Ove’s neighbors see something in him that he can no longer see in himself, and keep forcing him out into the open. Principal among these is Parvaneh (Bahar Pars), a pregnant Iranian wife and mother who enlists Ove to give her driving lessons.
The film’s secret weapon of poignancy is its exploration of how time changes (and doesn’t change) the individual. In addition to Lassgard’s bull of an older man, we see Ove as a seven-year-old boy (Viktor Baagoe) and a young man (Filip Berg). Holm pulls off the trick of making us believe that all three actors are the same person, and one shouldn’t underestimate the heart-tugging power of alternating between the suicidal, elephantine 59-year-old and his head-over-heels younger self, shyly sweet on Sonja. It doesn’t hurt that Holm succeeds in establishing a very tricky balance between the at times black comedy and the film’s dramatic underpinnings.
Lassgard won the Swedish equivalent of the Oscar (the Guldbagge) for his take on the Scrooge-y grump with a heart of gold. Though Holm’s film can be plenty sentimental and emotionally manipulative, it also manages to be about sentiment and emotional manipulations, and how those aren’t necessarily bad things. Indeed, they’re not bad at all as concerns A Man Called Ove.