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A Man Called Ove

October 15, 2017

A Man Called Ove (2015)
Director: Hannes Holm
Actors: Rolf Lassgård, Bahar Pars, Filip Berg

Synopsis: Crotchety and suicidal 59-year-old widower, Ove (Rolf Lassgård), has his life turned upside down by an eccentric Swedish-Persian family who move in across the street from him.

Review: Save the atypical Swedish canvas, this thick slice of soft Gothic whimsy hearkens uncannily to the sort of film Alexander Payne or perhaps even Tim Burton (think Big Fish) have made a career out of manufacturing across the pond. Of course, it’s not a crime to make a sentimental film – it’s a viable genre and sensibility – so there is much to commend A Man Called Ove for amid its calculating machinations.

Even if you can spot the character arc a mile off, Rolf Lassgård’s portrayal of the cantankerous Ove is a tour de force, and engenders the necessary pathos one needs to feel for his character as he goes on his Scroogeian journey of humanisation. Also, where much of Hannes Holm’s direction feels too conceited, literal and symmetrical (the neat framing mirroring the manic desire for order in Ove’s own psyche), he does conjure one or two witty skits. The best of which is a gallows image of Ove recalling his mother’s funeral. As his younger self looks back painfully at the church, he observes the microcosm that is life’s journey through a blissful married couple entering on one side of the church, while at the far end, the coffin of Ove’s mother is lugged solemnly away.

A Man Called Ove does have charm amid its syrupy confections, but any resonance or profundity is hampered by the glibness of many of those manipulations. The perpetually twee soundtrack is gratingly patronising, and the flashbacks designed to inform Ove’s present day crisis are far too schematic. Ove’s deceased wife is a cipher of saintliness who inexplicably falls in love with his naive, uninteresting younger self because the story needs that to happen for his epiphany in later life, but her devotion to him makes no sense other than as a sentimental excuse for his unattractive personality.

The flashbacks in general feel like a storytelling cop out, and, although admirable in sketching in a modern day, ethnographic context to its Swedish microcosm, Ove’s thawing at the hands of his new Persian neighbour transmits as too schematic. There’s even a highly unlikely subplot about Ove taking in a gay Muslim man called Mirsad which really is laying on the film’s message of liberal tolerance a little too thick. (October 2017)

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