A Man Called Ove

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Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 
A Man Called Ove
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 

59-year old Ove (Rolf Lassgard) is grumpy, forcibly retired widower who was once the president of the condominium association, until fired, in a small Swedish town. But, his gruff demeanor and self-appointed role as neighborhood watch annoy his neighbors, until a family moves into the house next door to Ove. The mom of the family, Persian-borne and pregnant Parvaneh (Bahar Pars), soon sees that there is more to and can help “A Man Called Ove.”

Robin:
The film opens with Ove being his curmudgeon self and making his rounds of the neighborhood, picking up cigarette butts and scolding everyone for infractions of the rules. He lost his wife Sonja (Ida Engvoll) and his normal gruff behavior, that she helped to temper with her love, turns bitter as he vents his loss on everyone. That changes when Parvaneh arrives with her husband, Patrik (Tobias Almborg), and their two kids.

Ove’s grumpiness does not faze Parvaneh. Her optimism and happy persona and outlook on life are the polar opposite of Ove’s. She shows her first kindness to her new neighbor when she gives him a container of rice and chicken as thanks for helping them park their caravan. Never wasteful, Ove eats the dish and finds it delicious. Slowly and surely, his new neighbor calls upon him to help her in little, then bigger, ways and bring him out of his self imposed shell of aloneness and despair.

These intrusions into his life conflict with Ove’s Grand Plan: to end his grief and join Sonja. This sounds like tragedy but, in the hands of writer-director Hannes Holm, adapting the novel by Frederik Backman, Ove’s repeated, and repeatedly interrupted, suicide attempts make for some very funny scenes. Also, during these aborted attempts to kill himself, Ove flashes back to his days with Sonja, only to be brought back by a knock on the door or a commotion outside, giving the man a depth of character and feeling that build throughout the film.

When “A Man Called Ove” started and I found out it is about an old curmudgeon who his neighbors openly dislike, and two hours long, I inwardly groaned. Then, Ove’s story unfolds as Parvaneh enters his life in positive and loving ways. What we see is the metamorphosis and rebirth of a man who had given up on life and it is a terrific character study by Rolf Lassgard. I give it an A-.

Laura:
At the age of 59, Ove (Rolf Lassgård, "After the Wedding") is his block association's curmudgeon.  He lost his beloved wife, Sonja (ray of light Ida Engvoll, seen in flashbacks) just two years ago and just been forced into retirement. With nothing to do but harass his neighbors, he decides to end it all but something is always interrupting "A Man Called Ove."

Adapting Fredrik Backman's Swedish bestseller, writer/director Hannes Holm has pulled off a minor miracle.  We've all seen plenty of films where an older crank is sparked into new life by crossing paths with another, but this one feels fresh because of its layered structure, Scandinavian sense of humor and first rate performance from Lassgård.

We immediately know what kind of man Ove is from the film's opening scene. He argues with a supermarket clerk that his discount coupon should be valid despite the fact that he's only buying one bouquet of roses, not the two designated.  When he speaks to Sonja at her grave, he's a different man but we wonder just how the woman stood him for so long.  He barks at a neighbor whose dog pees on the walkway, yells at anyone who dares to drive through restricted areas and responds to neighbor Anita's (Chatarina Larsson) request for help with her heating with sarcasm.  Essentially he believes everyone is an idiot and when a new neighbor, Patrik (Tobias Almborg), has difficulty backing up a trailer he is no exception. But Patrick's wife, Parvaneh (Bahar Pars), shows nothing but kindness, bringing over chicken and rice as a thank you for his help.

Meanwhile he tries to commit suicide.  Several stabs at hanging don't work, so he gets his garden hose back from Anita (where we learn her husband, Rune (Börje Lundberg), is wheelchair bound) and tries to gas himself in his car.  Every attempt, surprisingly humorous, brings back a memory, beginning with his loving upbringing by his widowed dad (Stefan Gödicke).  As we learn how cruel life was to the growing Ove and how Sonja changed everything until yet another tragedy struck, we gain more and more sympathy for the man.  The most hilarious flashback gives us the genesis of the block association's governing, Ove (Filip Berg, "Evil") back then a kindred spirit of Rune's (Simeon Lindgren), until he discovered one unfortunate difference.

Especially lovely is how the influence of two women affect the main character. One look at Ida Engvoll, a Scandinavian Elizabeth Moss with a glorious smile, and we can see how she immediately won Ove's heart.  Their courtship is charming. Bahar Pars is a different kettle of fish, asking the type of assistance that would normally send Ove ranting, yet he's so flummoxed by her manner, he acquiesces and discovers something in the bargain.  It's a lovely relationship that somehow transcends cliche and "A Man Called Ove" is a delight from start to finish.

Grade:  B+
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