Swedish film “A Man Called Ove”, which was recently nominated for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, looks typical at first. Here is a blunt, irascible curmudgeon who frequently gets annoyed by many things in his life, and it is not a spoiler at all to tell you that he is actually a selfless man of virtue and decency, but the movie presents his story via the endearing mixture of earnest poignancy and offbeat black humor. While he is still your average grumpy old dude even in the end, we come to understand him as getting to know more about him and his life, and we come to care about him as often chuckling over a number of darkly funny moments.
Ove (Rolf Lassgård) is a 59-year-old factory worker who recently lost his wife, and the opening scene shows a minor friction between him and a clerk in a local florist shop. He simply wants to buy a bouquet at a discounted price, but the clerk flatly reminds him that he must buy two bouquets, and he becomes piqued at this although he eventually buys two bouquets and takes them to his wife’s grave.
And that is just one of numerous things to frustrate and exasperate him. Although he is no longer the chairman of the board of his housing complex neighborhood, he is still fastidious about the regulations set by him and his estranged friend with whom he does not talk anymore. Whenever he does his routine check-up around the neighborhood, he always finds something against the rules, and that certainly does not give a good impression to many of his neighbors.
On one day, he is fired from his workplace, and he decides to kill himself because he has nothing to hold himself to his life now, but then his suicide attempt is interrupted by an unexpected happening. When he is about to hang himself in the living room, new residents have just arrived at a house located right across from his house, and Ove cannot possibly ignore a trouble they are causing in front of his house because, well, old habit never dies easily.
They are an Iranian immigrant named Parvaneh (Bahar Pars), her Swedish husband, and their two little daughters, and Ove soon finds himself getting involved with them more than he wants as Parvaneh constantly approaches to him as a friendly neighbor. When she needs to learn how to drive a car, he declines to be her driving teacher at first, but he eventually comes to teach her in the end, and he soon becomes a sort of grandfather figure to her family as getting closer to them than before.
In the meantime, he keeps trying to kill himself, but his attempts always lead to hilarious failures as if he were kept being held by the hand of fate, and his life continues to give him more matters to deal with besides Parvaneh and her family. For example, he has to take care of a stray cat which comes to stay in his house after picked up by Parvaneh, and then he becomes concerned about his aforementioned friend, who is going to be taken away from his home and wife by heartless welfare workers.
While the movie has a morbid fun with Ove’s suicide attempts and the following failures, some of these macabre moments initiate the flashback sequences which shows us how his life frequently swung back and forth between happiness and sadness. We see Ove’s childhood time with his good-natured widower father, who passed down to his young son the personal attachment to a certain Swedish vehicle brand. We observe how Ove’s personality was shaped by his life experience. And we behold how Ove accidentally encountered his future wife Sonja (Ida Engvoll) and then instantly fell in love with her.
The love story between Ove and Sonja is depicted with touching sincerity. Ove, played by Filip Berg at this point, does not express his feeling well in front of Sonja during their first dinner, but she easily sees through his heart, and she promptly makes a direct move when he hesitates. They become more inseparable from each other after they marry, and that does not change even when they are struck by a heartbreaking tragedy.
Smoothly moving back and forth between two main plotlines, the movie strikes a right balance between comedy and drama, and the director Hannes Holm, who also adapted the novel of the same name by Fredrik Backman, did a solid job of maintaining the dry but quirky tone of the story which is gradually counterbalanced by its emerging pathos. While generating plenty of laughs from Ove’s absurd circumstance, the movie never makes fun of the deep sadness inside him, and Ove eventually comes to us as a three-dimensional human character to respect and like.
As the comic center of the film, Rolf Lassgård is fabulous in his funny and moving performance, and Filip Berg is also excellent while seamlessly connected with Lassgård. While Bahar Pars brings lots of spirit into her gregarious supporting character, Ida Engvoll radiates with warmth and gentleness in her scenes with Berg, and the special mention goes to two Ragdoll cats which play that scene-stealing stray cat in the movie.
“A Man Called Ove” may be conventional in many aspects, but it distinguishes itself via its smart, sincere storytelling coupled with a naughty sense of humor, and I enjoyed it more than expected along with frequent chuckles. It is a shame that I did not watch it when it was released here early in 2016, but now I watched it, and I can gladly recommend it to you now.