A Man Called Ove

116 Minutes - Director: Hannes Holm

A Man Called Ove starts with a bad-tempered curmudgeon - Ove - arguing with a florist about whether he is entitled to a discount on a bunch of roses. He comes across as unnecessarily unpleasant, making other shoppers cringe - but all is not as it seems. We next see him taking the roses to put in front of the grave of his recently-departed wife, to whom he talks fondly throughout the film. LAWAC screened A Man Called Ove on Monday November 28th for members - it has been submitted as Sweden's entry for the 2017 Academy Awards Best Foreign Language Film.

The grieving Ove is hostile to his neighbors, shop assistants and pretty much anyone else he meets, all of whom he audibly castigates as "idiots." Ove, played memorably by veteran Swedish actor Rolf Lassgard, is so miserable that he wants to commit suicide to join his beloved wife. At this point, about 20 minutes in to the film, the viewer might be forgiven for hoping he would hurry up and get on with it. But this is where director Hannes Holm injects unexpected humor. Every time Ove tries to kill himself - by hanging, asphyxiation by car fumes, with a shotgun - his pesky neighbors who irritate him so much come knocking on his door or his garage to look for something, frustrating his attempts to end his life.

The foil to Ove is an Iranian-born immigrant, Parvaneh, an irrepressibly cheerful and very pregnant woman who moves in to his street along with her hapless husband and their two affectionate daughters. After they have accidentally backed their car into his mail box - "idiots" - Ove decides he is going to teach Parvaneh to drive, and despite himself he starts to warm to the young family. As the film progresses Holm shows a series of flashbacks of the hardships that Ove has lived through which begin to explain his current behavior - and show the warmth that exists under his hard outer shell.

On the surface the film is about one lonely old man discovering that everybody needs other people in their lives to be happy, and the realization of this by Ove at the end of the film closes the narrative loop. But the film also digs into bigger themes like parental love, the aging process, and how much individual citizens can or cannot rely on their government to help them. Sweden, long a paragon of the caring social welfare state, is being forced to confront some of the limitations of that comfortable social compact as its population ages, health care costs go up, and as it struggles at the same time to integrate a large number of refugees from the wars in the Middle East.

At a Q&A after the LAWAC screening, director Holm said he was trying to show that "first impressions about people are not always accurate." Which goes some way to explaining how an apparently embittered and prejudiced old man could end up babysitting his neighbors' kids, taking in a gay Muslim youth as a boarder in his house, and sheltering a cat whom he once vilified for peeing on his terrace. Rolf Lassgard, who played Ove, described his character "like a Chinese box" which contained many different parts, which were slowly revealed during the course of the film. As for how he got into Ove's grumpy mood, Lassgard said that he had to get up at 4 am every morning for two hours of "aging" makeup before anyone else arrived on set - by which time he was already in an appropriately sour Ove-like mood.