A Man Called Ove: A well-told tale of woe
A recently widowed man hovers between despair and grumpy outrage in Hannes Holm’s Oscar-nominated drama
Best foot forward: Rolf Lassgard in A Man Called Ove
Film Title: A Man Called Ove
Director: Hannes Holm
Starring: Rolf Lassgard, Bahar Pars, Filip Berg, Ida Engvoll, Tobias Almborg, Klas Wiljergard, Chatarina Larsson
Running Time: 116 min
One of the more slippery words often used pejoratively about films (and other sentimental things) is “manipulative”. If a film-maker can “manipulate” me into sobs, I say: good luck to him or her.
The main problem with A Man Called Ove – a faithful, nice looking adaption of Fredrik Backman’s popular novel – is that it’s not manipulative enough. The script lets us know early on that we will be prodded towards the handkerchief. The grumpy, anal Ove (Rolf Lassgard most of the time) is living miserably in a neat, if bland, Swedish suburb.
He is recently widowed and, as more early hints let on, his wife endured an accident some time before she died. Flashbacks clarify that – like Greer Garson in Goodbye Mr Chips – she carried the spark that illuminated his dusty soul. He is obsessed with trains and the superiority of Saab motorcars. She laughed her way through the funnier bits of The Master and the Margarita. This is going to be a killer.
When the tragedies come, however, they are muted by a nagging sense of artificiality. It doesn’t help that Filip Berg, who plays Ove as a young man, could hardly look less like Lassgard if they were from different species. The former has something of Domhnall Gleeson about him. The latter is an eerie Nordic version of Victor Meldrew.
Indeed, A Man Called Ove begins very much like the opening episode of One Foot in the Grave. Ove is let go a few years ahead of retirement age and, now with too much time on his hands, begins terrorising the neighbours for any minor transgression of local bylaws.
He does more. Already depressed by his wife’s death, he makes various efforts to kill himself. One of the film’s best recurring jokes finds Ove repeatedly retreating from the abyss to enjoy one more bellow at another insignificant misdemeanour.
Nothing about the plot surprises very much. Quite early on, we see signs of the protagonist softening to his new middle-eastern neighbours and gaining affection for a determined pussycat. But the strong cast offer pleasing company on the way to our expected location.
This is exactly the sort of unthreatening film you would expect to see in the shortlist for best foreign-language film at the Oscars. Sure enough, the nomination came its way. Worse films have won.