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 an ornery, rather embittered old so-and-so, or so it seems. Recently widowed, he lives alone in a small Swedish condo complex over which, as its one-time association president, he seethes with petulant indignation at the slightest offense or disturbance. No noise, speeding, cigarette butts, or commotion of any sort, thank you. Worse still, amid his bad funk after his wife’s death, and his forced retirement, he seeks to do himself in. For this he prepares by dressing in his best suit and rigging a rope from a hook installed in the middle of the living room ceiling–over and over again. Alas, every time he tries to enter oblivion, something or someone interrupts. And that is a good thing, for life is not yet done with old Ove, as this odd, very funny, and moving redemption tale makes clear (the film is based on the best-selling novel by Swede Fredrik Backman).
To be sure, enough bad stuff has happened to Ove Lindahl (Rolf Lassgård) to push him to contemplate a swift exit from his life. The film smoothly displays all of that misfortune in flashbacks to his youth and crucial junctures in adulthood and marriage. So while we contemplate the orneriness of the touchy old fellow, we learn more and more of a backstory that explains a good deal of his grumpiness about the often ambiguous “gift” of being alive.
For example, amid his proudest moment growing up, his father, in a blink, disappears. And so also with other family (not to give anything too much away in case you have not seen the film or read the book). Suffice it to say, he’s got his reasons, though not without a dose of self-dramatization, such as donning suit and tie each time he grabs the rope. In any case, he’s a decent fellow who has never made friends with the world, partly from timidity and partly from suspicion of its injustices. Wife Sonja (Ida Engvoll) enticed him into living the first time, and with her gone, everything falls apart, and his anger mounts ever higher. “It’s just chaos when you’re not there,” he says to her in one of his regular visits to her grave. After all, against all odds, she loved him into living, and living fully takes love. Tragically, when she and others die, he soon forgets all that he had learned amid their care and love.
Alas, it will take another forceful woman to re-instigate a taste for life in Ove, only this time romance has got nothing to do with it. Instead, across the street, there lives a fiery new neighbor Parvaneh (Bahar Pars), an Iranian immigrant and mother with a moderately witless husband, two daughters, and another on the way. And she is not exactly tame, for Parvaneh can conquer just about everything, at once both indomitable and loving. And in her, Ove has met his match, hauled back into living kicking and screaming but finally laughing. She, and events, turn grief and anger into loving. In fact, as a physician tells Ove, your “heart is too big.” Instead of romance, here a daughter raises a father to life.
Finally, indeed, Ove gets it and acts it. Graveside, he confesses his manifold wrongs–
“Idiot! That’s what I’ve been” (1:28:30)–and begs forgiveness of departed Sonja, she who relished life and endlessly gave of herself even after her own multiple tragedies, Ove always being her chief recipient. Parvaneh reminds him that “No one manages completely on their own. No one. Not even you” (1:31:05). Moving beyond individualism of any measure takes reconciliation, big-time, with God and, as the Book makes clear, people, all of them.
Ove has proven a slow learner, though understandably so, given his many losses in being alive. Finally, though, he has come again, and more than ever, to know what life is for, namely all that connectedness and mutual relish and aid and reconciliation. The film’s final shot is a long way from the Sistine Chapel and the Father reaching to humankind, but it surely hearkens to the same richest gifts of connectedness and genuine intimacy.
written by Roy Anker