Nominated for the Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar at the 2017 Academy Awards, A Man Called Ove is a very dark Swedish dramedy based on a novel by Fredrik Backman. The film follows a somewhat familiar narrative about a grumpy old man, perhaps the grumpiest old man that has ever lived (giving Clint Eastwood a run for his money), but despite the classic cinema trope and formulaic plot, this black comedy takes some serious risks that set it far above others before it, and engrosses you on the journey it takes you on.
Right from the beginning, you get to see what kind of man Ove is: a grumpy old man (played brilliantly by Rolf LassgÃ¥rd in present day) who walks down his street, straightening signs and yelling at his neighbours at the slightest irritant. He hisses at stray cats, threatens dogs and destroys his only real friendship purely based on the fact his friend bought a Volvo. We also discover that not only has this man been let go of his job, but he is also a widow. You quickly realise that Ove is a man who is perhaps understandably miserable, but who unfortunately takes it out on anyone around him.
Following a strong character set-up, the film sets in, and this is where director-writer Hannes Holm shines in blending the dark melodrama with comedy. Ove is introduced through the running joke of various suicide attempts, as he does his best to join his late wife in death. It’s clear that there is quite the dose of darkness to the comedy, with one standout moment, for example, coming when Ove complains to a hardware store that a rope advertised for “all jobs” was not strong enough to hang him.
With each failed attempt, we get to know a bit more about the man. Ove is a man who has been surrounded by tragedy from a young age, a man made remotely human by his beautiful and loving wife, Sonja (played by Ida Engvoll), who we meet in flashback form. Walking through their first meeting and their blossoming love, we begin to understand why Ove is so desperate to meet her in the afterlife. Sonja’s spirit and charm lights up both young Ove’s life and the screen, as she does her best to keep his feet on the ground throughout many tragedies and misfortunes presented to them. Never does she waver in her love for all, especially her husband, despite everything thrown at her.
In the present, Ove’s newest neighbours – a young family with a strong matriarch in Parvaneh (Bahar Pars) – chip away him. It appears Ove has met his match, a person able to withstand his towering figure and abusive comments to strike, to the point where an unlikely friendship sparks up between the two.
Holm’s screenplay intersects Ove’s past and present, along with his obvious future. Through this non-linear journey, Holm paints a layered picture of a man; who he has become and the life he has lived to get there. Despite the darkness, A Man Called Ove manages to be completely endearing, holding relationships as the root of its humour and overall tone of the film. However, there is still a sharp bite that will not leave you unscathed. One pivotal, soul-crushing scene of self-realisation in particular should bring tears to anyone who has dealt with loss themselves.
— The film is actually pretty funny, though.
THE REEL SCORE: 8/10