A Man Called Ove (2016)
Suicide is Painless
A Man Called Ove is the tale of an acerbic elderly gentleman who has lost his will to live. His beloved wife Sonja is deceased, he unexpectedly finds himself unemployed, and the daily grind of dealing with “idiots” has worn him down. Through a series of botched suicide attempts that lead into flashbacks from Ove’s life, the viewer witnesses the joys and pains that have molded him into his present self. His backstory soars from comical to bittersweet in a heartbeat.
Based on the 2012 novel by Swedish writer Fredrik Backman, the story is a familiar one. Despite his gruff exterior, Ove is a good man with a giving heart. He inadvertently develops a relationship with the new family that has moved in next door to him. Throughout a series of incidents, he helps them and others who come within his sphere of contact.
Written and directed by Hannes Holm, the film lives and dies by Rolf Lassgard’s interpretation and execution of the titular character. He ideally embodies the grouchy perfectionist in all his deadpan glory.
Some of the biggest laughs of the film are earned in scenes between Ove and his neighbor Parvaneh (Bahar Pars). Parvaneh is sweet and unpretentious. Ove is abrasive and suspicious. Much like pairing chocolate and peanut butter, this is a surefire formula for laughs. Additionally, Pars brings such a likable charisma to Parvaneh, that even the caustic Ove can’t help but like her.
Equally important is the younger version of Ove, played by Filip Berg. He portrays a young man who only wants to work hard and please his father. He later meets and pursues the love of his life, Sonja (Ida Engvoll). Berg’s earnest depiction of the character sets the table for the later heartbreak Ove is to experience. The highs of Berg’s performance allow for the lows of Lassgard’s.
The film doesn’t exactly tread new ground. American viewers would likely equate it to the 1997 Jack Nicholson vehicle, As Good as It Gets. But there is something about the type of story it is that is universal and rings true. Sometimes in life, a person takes a shot on the chin and they are never the same again, nor should they be. Death. Illness. Divorce. Tragedy has a way of changing us; the way we project ourselves to others and the way we protect ourselves from future heartbreak. Films like this remind us that despite the staunchest armor, a delicate heart beats within.
–Zep the Bear