One thing we must thank The Academy for is its ability to shine a light on films that would have otherwise passed us by; proudly taking advantage of its dual nominations (deservedly, Best Foreign Language Film and, bizarrely, Best Makeup and Hairstyling), A Man Called Ove has finally made its way onto UK shores, six months after its award-season ready debut. The Swedish-production would almost certainly never see the light of day in the UK without the nominations to boot (well, in a theatrical capacity at least), so the fact we even get to witness Ove at all is a pleasant surprise.
Based on Fredrik Backman’s 2012 novel of the same name, A Man Called Ove concerns itself with the highly-strung Ove (Rolf Lassgard), a sullen man depressed after losing his wife to cancer six months previously. Allowing his loneliness to manifest into an unshakeable grumpiness and general unpleasantness, he is caught off guard by the friendliness and warmth of an Iranian immigrant, Parvaneh (Bahar Pars) and her family, who moves into the house across the street from Ove and tries to befriend him. As Parvaneh tries desperately (and somewhat unknowingly) to teach the uncrackable Ove about life and love, her efforts may not all be in vein after all.
In all honesty, A Man Called Ove’s story is a well-worn one, treading conventions more often than it probably should; but the comedy-drama, written and directed by Hannes Holm, executes its astute piece with sweet and charming flourishes that ensures the experience is a truly touching and emotional one. You can forgive its somewhat predictable structure, as it operates on a relatively tight structure – the film clocks in at 116 minutes – and features a handful of its own eccentricities to set itself apart from similar genre pictures.
A terrific blend of genres
A Man Called Ove greatly benefits from its genre-blending efforts: infusing black comedy into the dark thematic content and drama is a bold and brave move that many stumble attempting – but A Man Called Ove masters the difficult balance of opposing tones with ease. For instance, a number of times, a character attempts suicide, complete with a distressing build-up that breaks your heart each and every time – but he is constantly prevented from taking their life in increasingly humorous ways.
Rather than it feeling crass or vacuous, A Man Called Ove approaches its sensitive subject matter with care, revealing the fragility of the character in question through flashbacks into their past and willingly cracking their facade, shedding a whole new light on the character. It not only helps to craft a more insightful back-story and allows you to understand the character’s journey and development in the present, but it helps guarantee the pitfalls of the suicide are avoided. To my relief, the incorporation of the comedy in these moments are not simply for laughs, but instead satisfyingly develop the characters, relationships and narrative without ever trying to undermine, or endorse, Ove’s struggle. It’s a serious thing for a film to consider and in choosing not to laugh at it, A Man Called Ove handles it tactfully.
This is all helmed excellently by the Holm, who takes on the writing duties, adapting Backman’s successful source material for the screen. Juggling the conflicting tones efficiently and effectively inducing the tricky theme work into the fold, Backman discovers a beauty and a darkness in both the story and the setting and brings it to the forefront of the picture, often simultaneously. We are always presented with something luscious to take in, whether it be the subtle but impressive cinematography (brought to you by Goran Hallberg) or the slightly dreamy lighting that somewhat blurs reality and Ove’s memories – but the aesthetics never take away from the important message firmly at the film’s heart.
Emotion in abundance
Generally speaking, the production design is impressive all-round. The sets are well-thought out and brimming with small but significant details, with the Swedish canvas subtly rendered in an ever so slightly cartoonish way. It is simply a wonderful lesson in nuance: not everything has to be big and bold and eye-popping to be beautiful or noticeable and A Man Called Ove wholly excels in the small details.
A lot of A Man Called Ove’s emotional heft lies at the feet of the actors, and they are more than up for the challenge. Lassgard and Pars are very much the centre of the story and while they are superb individually, together they are unstoppable: the dynamic and chemistry they cultivate and allow to evolve over the course of the film is tremendous and they bounce off each other wonderfully. Lassgard plays the irascible Ove in a way that prevents a pantomime-esque villain from arising, while Pars plays his loving neighbour with a wonderful niaveity and alluring kindness. The surface says they are a mismatched pair but Lassgard and Pars use that to their advantage and craft something truly special through Ove and Parvaneh’s relationship.
Gaute Storaas perfects a magnificent soundtrack to accompany the piece, utilising a variety of instruments to score important moments from the body of work; ‘The Janitor’ is a jolty and sudden track evoking an equally comedic and threatening note to introduce Ove on; ‘At The Hospital’ is a disconcerting number, excellently producing an uncomfortable feel when the fate of one character is questioned that keeps you firmly on edge; and ‘The Christening’ is an aching moment, emphasising the raw emotion of the third act in a marvellous way. The whole collection is diverse and appropriate and splendid, capturing the charm and tone of A Man Called Ove masterfully.
A Man Called Ove is not afraid to tug on the heartstrings
A Man Called Ove is not afraid to tug on the heartstrings which results in a sweet, charming and stirring piece of cinema that smartly evokes a wide-range of emotions during its runtime. Because of the tremendous work from the main players – Lassgard, Pars, Storaas and Holm, in particular – the pay-off is deft and impassioned, heartwarming and heart-wrenching, providing a thrilling cinematic experience far more touching that you initially expect.
A Man Called Ove isn’t always a brilliant piece of film-making and it is certainly not without its flaws; the story itself is rather typical and the element of surprise would be appreciated to ensure that it remains continually nimble; it could do with a tightening during the middle act, with a plot strand introduced that the film could have easily dropped; and maybe, just maybe it slips into melodramatic and saccharine territory a couple of times – but none of that detracts from what is an intrinsic and thoughtfully-crafted, charming and sweet film I can heartily recommend.
Heartwarming and devastating, humorous and dark, all often in the same breath, A Man Called Ove is completely delightful and will win you over by pulling at your heartstrings. It is tremendously considerate with its themes, fundamentally sweet and well-intentioned, with the charm of the film firmly lying in the details. It juggles many tones, genres and ideas at once but by channelling them through Ove and his relationship with Parvaneh, it helps to streamline a sharp comedy-drama with an inherent focus for it to run with.
A Man Called Ove took me completely by surprise: thankfully, it is the type of surprise that makes loving cinema so rewarding and refreshing. It is easy to love, difficult to critique and an assertion that Award shows have their merit; who else would have given a Swedish drama-comedy a go, without the Academy thrusting it into our peripherals? Much like Toni Erdmann and arguably Elle, it has shone a much needed light on these cinematic marvels.
A Man Called Ove is nothing short of charming, infectiously overjoying audiences with its sharp blend of comedy, drama and emotion, producing a succulent piece of cinema that balances the sweetness with the bitterness expertly. Seek out A Man Called Ove and you will be rewarded with a film as heartbreaking as it is life-affirming.
As hard as you try, and much like the titular character himself, you cannot resist the sheer joy of A Man Called Ove.
Do you need to thank The Academy for bringing any obscure films to your attention? If so, what are they?
A Man Called Ove is out in select cinemas across the UK, or available to download. All other release dates can be seen here.