A Man Called Ove (2015)
Written and Directed by Hannes Holm (based on novel by Fredrik Bachman). Starring Rolf Lassgård, Filip Berg, Bahar Paris, and Ida Engvoll. 116 minutes. Rated PG-13.
Ove is 59 years old and, well, as mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. Life has smacked him hard, really hard, over and over, and he makes sure everybody knows about it. That is not to say that Ove goes around in a cloud of self-pity laying bare his soul and sorrows. In fact, he doesn’t think what he feels is anybody’s bloody business but his own. Except, that is, for his wife, whose grave he visits daily with flowers and “news” of his life, something he’s trying to end asap. Great stuff this is—for a comedy, a very human comedy. A Man Called Ove is terribly funny and also, for much of it, melancholy over what life does to people, which is mainly kill them off without nearly the good fortune that Ove, relatively speaking, has enjoyed.
Life in general should be better, a lot better, he thinks, with ample justification, and his anger vents on any infraction in the small Swedish condo association that he monitors like a starved hawk looking for any living something to devour. Indeed, imperfect messy humans in their usually messy lives makes things messy (and often painful, of which there is more than enough to go around). Ove’s thirst for a perfect painless world essentially forbids human presence that brings with it all of that always upsetting human messiness. Rather, Ove much prefers predictable and manageable things, like cars, or dependable somethings he can build like bookcases, wheelchair ramps, and cribs. After all, he has repeatedly lost those humans he has most cared for, and so then what good is the rest of it, people in particular, especially when they invade his fiery insularity? And that applies as well to stray cats who mess his tiny yard. And it is all paradox: as much as he misses his wife, he hates other families, especially ones with the kids they never had.
And then, finally, by grace or whatever, it happens; one by one, small events tumble his surly preconceptions. First, a reminder comes that his dearly loved wife was not only masterful professionally but also a kindly soul who embraced and cared for the human mess and especially “the least of these.” One of her former students trying to help a friend asserts to old Ove, who stands virtually naked before him, that “Sonja was always helping people” (1:25:06).
And surprise, these aliens, meaning other people, they are not nearly as bad as Ove has imagined. Moreover, he discovers compassion from others for himself that he never guessed possible, in this case from neighbors he had scorned over ridiculous differences, as in what kind of car to drive (1:28:09).
Such revelations chide Ove to his core, and he heads off to the cemetery to confess to Sonja, his only friend still: “Idiot! That’s what I’ve been” (1:28:30).
After a long silence sitting there amid his churning soul, he begs Sonja “not to be angry with me,” adding that “Admitting you’ve been wrong is hard. Especially when you’ve been wrong for a long time.” Then, after still more silent churning, comes a simple “I’m sorry,” after which Ove repents, setting out to correct his errors, namely his lack of care for others. And by the end of his reparative adventures, Ove actually laughs and teases and helps and gives and even exults, a new presence in a strange family where the kids call him grandpa. Admittedly, it all sounds more than hokey, a charge oft-pitched toward the New Testament. On the other hand, here is an apt portrait of what pilgrimage and its destination look like. After all, even ornery Ove has grasped that wrong lies not just in what people do or don’t do but in what we deep-down think and feel. “There is no health in us,” as the liturgy announces. We should be so lucky—stripped naked only to be clothed, at last.
written by Roy Anker