A Man Called Ove

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

A Man Called Ove
"There's little that's really unusual about this tale, but it's beautifully put together."

With Fredrik Backman's whimsical novel selling over 650,000 copies in Sweden (i.e. one copy for every 15 people), it was only ever a matter of time until it made its way to the big screen. This adaptation by Hannes Holm maintains the careful balance between pathos and sardonic observation that endeared it to readers. Fans of the book will love it. Others may find it a touch too sentimental, but rounded performances give it more depth than it would likely have held onto in Hollywood.

Rolf Lassgård plays the titular Ove, recently bereaved, then sacked from his job of 43 years and told this will mean he has new opportunities in life. He can see only one thing worth pursuing, and that's a spot in the cemetery near his dear wife. So he goes home and sets up a noose in his living room, ready to end it all. But Ove trying to die is like Adam West's Batman trying to get rid of a bomb - there's just always something getting in the way. First it's the new neighbours backing their car into his mailbox - in an area where they're not even supposed to be driving - then it's their cute children pressing their faces up against his window and saying hello. This film might be subtitled A Series Of Fortunate Events, but they're not what Ove is looking for.

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Perhaps life wouldn't be so bad for Ove if it weren't for other people. They infuriate him. They break things, they ignore carefully spelled out rules, they lack even the basics of good manners and essential life skills. Ove doesn't take this lying down. He is a prodigious writer of letters of complaint, a kicker of dogs whose owners walk them in the wrong place. The last thing he needs is new neighbours who wants to be his friends - yet gradually, a combination of their niceness and their haplessness draws him in.

There's little that's really unusual about this tale, but it's beautifully put together. Even lighting and attractive, very geometric framing gives it a slightly old-fashioned quality that perfectly suits the flashbacks to his youth that Ove experiences each time he tries to die. There's gentle social commentary as we see the gradual breakdown of the old Swedish way of life, with its tightly regimented roles that suited Ove but perhaps kept him from developing friendships. As he gets to know Iranian and gay neighbours and finds that they enrich his life, he acts as a metaphor for a country moving into the modern era and finding its place in the world.

Lassgård is well suited to the leading role, making Ove's meanness as delightful as his gradual opening up. As neighbour Parvaneh, Bahar Pars brings joie de vivre but has shows us enough rough edges to keep things feeling real. The children are delightful but used sparingly, to avoid cloying sentiment; and a handsome Persian cat delivers both charm ad a scowl to match Ove' on. The result is a lighthearted, charming film which people of all ages will enjoy.

Reviewed on: 24 Dec 2016
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A Man Called Ove packshot
A stubborn old man is won over by a new neighbour.

Director: Hannes Holm

Writer: Hannes Holm, based on the novel by Fredrik Backman

Starring: Rolf Lassgård, Zozan Akgün, Tobias Almborg, Viktor Baagøe, Filip Berg, Anna-Lena Bergelin, Lasse Carlsson, Karin de Frumerie, Simon Edenroth, Ida Engvoll, Fredrik Evers, Jerker Fahlström, Johan Friberg, Anna Granath, Sofie Gällerspång

Year: 2015

Runtime: 116 minutes

Country: Sweden

Festivals:

EIFF 2016

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