A Man Called Ove, featuring Rolf Lassgård, Bahar Pars, and Filip Berg
–Review by Ashley Linne
A Man Called Ove is a story about someone who appears to be the typical cantankerous “old man next door” until you get to know him. A moving and dark comedy from Sweden, it was nominated for two Academy Awards and won or was nominated for other awards throughout Europe and the United States.
When we first meet Ove, he isn’t likeable at all. He has taken it upon himself to daily enforce numerous neighborhood rules and guidelines, functioning as his own neighborhood watch. But what is he protecting? He seems to have total disregard for his neighbors and expects them to yield to his wishes. He doesn’t seem like the type of person to have had any sort of happiness in his life.
However, as the film unfolds we learn his wife has recently died, and through his botched efforts at sending himself to the hereafter to join her, we experience the sorrows and joys of his life gone by. We begin to see that it isn’t so much that he’s a grumpy old man, but that he is a man who has felt so much pain in his life that he can’t bear to be vulnerable anymore.
Much to Ove’s vexation, a lively family of four moves in next door. These tenacious neighbors forge an unlikely friendship with Ove, and we begin to see more of who Ove truly is. We also get to know his late wife, Sonja, and see the extraordinary love they shared and the overwhelming tragedies they overcame.
The storytelling is done so well—themes that could have come across as trite or heavy-handed are anything but. Emotional films like this can feel manipulative, but I didn’t get that sense from A Man Called Ove. Rather than being lighthearted about pain or other serious circumstances, the humor most often comes as a result of Ove’s own stubbornness. I think many of us might relate to him more than we thought we would.
I’ve never been to Sweden, so I am not sure if the setting is typical for a Swedish neighborhood or not. Either way, the filmmakers made thoughtful use of color and utilized a beautiful setting. I watched the film with English subtitles, so I’m sure there are some jokes that were lost on me as an American. But even I got a good laugh at the scene about the competition between Ove, a dedicated Saab owner, and his neighbor who owned Volvos.
A Man Called Ove illustrates beautifully the power of community, and especially of one’s neighbors. Proximity matters in this movie, and it is through this closeness that we see grace extended and received. The film features food throughout, and not in any extravagant sort of way. It usually involves Tupperware being passed from one to another. It’s through these seemingly simple gestures that I see so much beauty. Being neighborly doesn’t have to be difficult; it just means sharing what you already have.
Even though this movie came out in 2015, in today’s climate it was nice to see a film that restored a bit of my hope in people’s capacity for love and goodness. If you are looking for a cathartic movie that will make you laugh out loud and make you cry, this is a good one.
You can watch A Man Called Ove on Amazon Prime.