A few years ago, I picked up Fredrik Backman’s novel A Man Called Ove for my book club. Published in 2012, the story was familiar and the main character was one I’d seen many times before. What stood out was Backman’s writing—it was colorful. I must confess, I didn’t finish the book. I liked what I read, though.
Hannes Holm’s film adaptation is similarly colorful. Ove (Rolf Lassgård)—rigid, regimented, orderly, and blustery—is the archetypal curmudgeon. A victim of a recent reduction in force at the train yard that employed him for 40 years, his days now consist of essentially three activities: policing the neighborhood development where he lives to enforce antiquated rules no one pays attention to, correcting transgressors, and visiting the gave of his wife, Sonja (Ida Engvoll). He promises to join Sonja and even makes a few attempts at suicide, but he’s constantly interrupted.
The interesting thing about Ove’s suicide attempts is that they trigger his memories, which fills us in on his backstory: his unconventional childhood, getting his job, meeting the woman who would become his wife, and some other stuff that brought him to where he is. He’s had a life filled with heartbreak, and he loved his wife. It’s no wonder then that he bristles when he unwillingly meets his new neighbors, a Persian woman named Parvaneh (Bahar Pars) and her klutz of a husband (Tobias Almborg), after they plow into his mailbox.
Dealing with love and loss, A Man Called Ove easily could have turned into a sentimental mess. The Swedish spin on it—a tongue in cheek earnest practicality, as illustrated by a stray cat and a battle between Saab and Volkswagen, for example—and Lassgård’s winsome performance both succeed at preventing that. Göran Hallberg’s cinematography is crisp and vivid, with the present comprised of natural blues and greens while the flashbacks have a warm, glowing sort of sepia pallette.
(Landmark Century) B-