A MAN CALLED OVE. Sweden. 2016. Rolf Lassgard, Bahar Pars, Filip Berg, Ida Engvoll. Directed by Hannes Holm. 116 minutes. Rated M (Mature themes and coarse language).
It is probably best to give this film some time to work its way on our emotions. The beginning is rather severe – and the film could have been called The Man Called Cantankerous (and that is something of an understatement!).
Ove (an extremely persuasive performance from Rolf Lassgard) is a 59-year-old widower, in charge of supervising the community area where he lives, absolutely meticulous, not afraid of confronting offenders, a letter of the law kind of person (the exact, exact letter of the law).
He is grieving the death of his wife, Sonia, some months earlier, is called in by the bosses where he works and let go (with a token gift of a spade for him to work in his garden). These are two of the white shirt men that he so loathes, bureaucrats, idiots – as he calls most people that he encounters.
Often visiting his wife’s grave, he is determined to go to her and tries to commit suicide several times (though he succumbs to temptations to open the door to visitors). The suicide attempts provide the occasion for significant flashbacks, to the little boy and his relationship with his father, the death of his mother, his father’s kindness, love of motors, work on the railways. Another flashback shows the adult Ove, bringing his exam results to his father – which leads to tragedy. Developers want to take over his house because it does not meet requirements – and, as he rescues an adult and child from a burning neighbouring house, sparks set fire to his own home. With nowhere to go, he lies down on a train compartment seat – and wakes to find a sympathetic young woman opposite him.
As Ove goes about his business, criticising everyone, carping with disappointment, his life begins to change when a family with two children parked illegally, reverse into his letterbox, and experience his wrath, but the mother, from Iran, generally takes no-nonsense and offers him food, her husband borrowing a ladder, with Ove giving him the manual, gets help from Ove with her driving, inveigling him into looking after her children, and persuading him to take in a stray cat.
There is a significant sequence where he rescues a man who has collapsed on railway tracks and is tempted to stay there himself. And there is a running story of his friendship rivalry with his neighbour, very much focused on the rivalry between Saab and Volvo.
Once we are involved in this kind of interaction, we know where the film is headed and it is a matter of wanting to learn more about Ove and his marriage to Sonia, why they have no children, and his greater involvement with more of the the locals, a young man who is trying to mend his girlfriend’s bike, a gay young man whom he takes in after the young men’s father rejects him, and a lot more activity with the family across the street. There is a particularly moving scene where he and the mother have coffee and cake in the restaurant where he and his wife did the same every Saturday (from 1 o’clock to 2 o’clock exactly) and the story of Sonia, very moving, is revealed. Ida Engvoll is a very attractive Sonia.
There is still more action in the film, and a play, both happy and sad, and the doctor’s diagnosis that Ove has a big heart.
The film was one of the five nominees for 2016 is Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.
(Since the actor playing the young Ove resembles actor Domnhall Gleason, the thought comes to mind that for the English-language version of this film, Gleason’s father, Brendan, would be a good casting coup.)
Rialto. Released March 30th.
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.