Carl Fredricksen from Up (2009) and the eponymous Ove (played by Rolf Lassgård) have a few things in common. They are old, pretty much on their own (through choice along with the way life has played out) and they are grumpy. Very grumpy. There’s a special word to describe characters of such ilk – curmudgeons. 59-year-old Ove may be cinema’s greatest curmudgeon yet. He’s miserable – he doesn’t care who knows it and it almost seems like he wants to spread the misery onto the masses, i.e the people who live in the same fancy housing estate he lives in. The older residents know Ove and know they are better off leaving the ex-chairman of the board of the neighbourhood associations to his own devices. If they follow his many rules, routines and regulations, there shouldn’t be any problems.
The new neighbours – an Iranian immigrant Parvenah (Pars), her Swedish husband and their two young daughters – don’t know this, however. They manage, totally inadvertently and completely unmaliciously, to break several rules as soon as they arrive. Ove does not react well. They even ask him for favours and rope him in to help them! Unlike the other residents, yet just like us, they do not know Ove’s past and what led him to being such a curmudgeon. They also do not realise, but unlike us, that they’ve just interrupted Ove’s suicide attempt…
It feels intrinsically and morally wrong to associate the adjective ‘funny’ with suicide and yet Ove’s multiple suicide attempts are somehow incredibly funny. They’ve been filmed that way. Ove may be a man desperate for a way out, and a way to be reunited with his late wife, but life has other plans in store for him, in the form of the new arrivals who have not-so-rudely interrupted him. Throughout the film, Ove tries to end his life but either Parvenah, her family, or flashbacks prevent Ove from ending his life. The world clearly isn’t ready to let him go and it’s through the flashbacks we fully begin to understand why. We bare witness to numerous key moments from Ove’s life – love, loss and everything in between. In these moments he is both the same man yet one who is vastly different. The reason for that? Sonja.
We find out in the film’s early moments that Ove’s wife died from cancer six months prior. Like yin and yang they completed each other, her tenderness smoothing out Ove’s harshness and forcing him out into a world he really wasn’t all that fond of. The utter devastation he feels at her loss is only compounded when he is fired from the company he has worked at for 43 years. He sees no reason to carry on living and it’s clear the universe is desperate to intervene. Repeatedly.
The aforementioned funny is the result of a careful blend of gallows humour, black comedy, dash of slapstick and excellent characterisation to make Ove truly endearing, even during his more pernickety moments. Over the film’s running time, courtesy of having his flashbacks juxtaposed with the present day, we get to bare witness to Ove’s greatness. We see just how extraordinary this seemingly ordinary man actually is. We realise just how kind and caring he has been and can be – it soon becomes clear there is a heart of gold behind exterior layers of steel. In fact, it would take the possessor of a heart of stone not to release more than a few tears during the moving journey through Ove’s past. The burgeoning friendship between Ove and Parvenah becomes a much needed reminder of the nature of first impressions – it’s all too easy to form a judgement from what we see on the outside looking in and that in doing so we might just miss the inner pain that person is hiding away.
The film is just like Ove himself. Quietly moving, darkly funny, sweetly tender, incredibly sincere and oh-so heartbreaking. The result is a film that is life affirming in a way that is all too rare and all too needed.
- Dir: Hannes Holm
- Scr: Fredrik Backman (novel) Hannes Holm (screenplay)
- Cast: Rolf Lassgård, Bahar Pars, Filip Berg, Ida Engvoll, Tobias Almborg, Klas Wiljergård, Chatarina Larsson, Börje Lundberg.
- Prd: Annica Bellander, Fredrik Wikström
- DOP: Göran Hallberg
- Music: Gaute Storaas
- Country: Sweden
- Year: 2015
- Run time: 116 minutes
A Man Called Ove is in UK cinemas from June 30th.