“…just how did he become this petty harbinger of headaches, and what does the future hold for this archetypal grumpy old man?”
If Peter Bradshaw’s rather dismissive review in the Guardian is anything to go by, A Man Called Ove is, and I quote: “…not very funny, not very sad, not very believable, and not very interesting.”
That’s not very favourable really, now is it, Peter?
More pertinently, it’s a truly baffling point of view that’s had me scratching my head.
Fortunately, I was not party to Mr Bradshaw’s peculiar conclusions prior to viewing this particular piece of Swedish cinema – conclusions that appear to have been arrived at whilst simultaneously tumbling down Alice’s rabbit hole, I should add.
Obviously it’s all subjective and there are no right or wrong answers here, but far from being the poor excuse for a film that Mr Bradshaw insinuates, Academy Award-nominated A Man Called Ove – based upon Fredrik Backman’s novel of the same name – is in fact, I’m delighted to inform you, a soulful, witty, wonderfully engaging piece. And whilst we’re in the business of overdosing on superlatives, let’s throw warm-hearted and life-affirming into the mix, too.
As for believable? Well, yes and no, but that’s hardly a critical factor when one considers that cinema is by its very nature a means of escape, frequently calling upon us to suspend our collective sense of disbelief. But let’s be clear here, A Man Called Ove is not in any way shape or form a film whose content defies belief in such a manner as to ultimately risk spoiling our enjoyment of it.
But enough with the tub-thumping and attempts at balance redressing.
Hannes Holm’s film – originally released in Sweden at the tail end of 2015, but only given its limited UK release this year – tells the story of Ove (a wonderful turn by Rolf Lassgård), a man who has always been socially awkward, bordering on the autistic in some ways. But over the years, owing to tragic circumstances, that awkwardness has since morphed into unconfined anger and misery.
Adhering to a strict daily routine, he patrols the grounds of the gated neighbourhood in which he lives, making note of any fool-hardy transgressors of the community regulations that he had helped to initiate during his time as Chairman of the neighbourhood committee. The fact that he no longer holds such a prestigious title and that the community tends to unwittingly flout his rules, is just one more trigger for multiple bouts of po-faced bitterness on his part. Regardless, Ove remains resolute, and continues to rigorously enforce ‘the law’ for what he perceives to be the good of the community.
But just how did he become this petty harbinger of headaches, and what does the future hold for this archetypal grumpy old man?
Ove’s back story is gradually revealed by way of a meandering narrative, initially through the series of flash-backs that he experiences during each of a number of unsuccessful suicide attempts, but latterly through the unlikely friendship that he develops with his Iranian-Swedish pregnant neighbour, Parvaneh (Bahar Pars). She, together with her boisterous family, are unknowingly the sole reason that Ove has yet to shuffle off this mortal coil, unable as he is to complete the ‘simple’ process of taking his own life without their unwelcome yet timely interruptions.
It is true that Hannes Holm’s touching tale, when broken down into its constituent parts, is probably a fairly routine and familiar one. A man, unable to cope with the accumulated sadness in his life and seeing little or no reason to go on, gradually, through a varied set of circumstances, manages to come to terms with the prospect of actually ‘living’ once again, thanks principally to the kindness of people that are able to recognise a good man with a good heart, even when it’s obscured by a particularly miserable demeanour.
For want of a better term, you would probably classify A Man Called Ove as something of a feel-good movie with stylistic parallels and general inspiration drawn from the sort of sentimental – bordering on slightly schmaltzy – Hollywood formulas that have unearthed such big screen favourites as Forest Gump; films that, if we’re deeply honest with ourselves, we probably love all the more for that very reason.
Rest assured though, Hannes Holm’s film, whilst certainly guilty of being whimsical at times, never comes close to achieving any sort of off-putting saccharine-overload.
Genuinely touching in places, A Man Called Ove is a witty, poignant and effortlessly charming tale.
One of the hidden gems of 2017 in fact.