An exploration of one’s own humanity is at the center of “En Man Som Heter Ov (A Man Called Ove),” an enchanting, refreshing little gem of a film that hails from Sweden. This is a beautiful movie with a distinct voice that’s filled with a delicate balance of tragedy, sadness, heartbreak, and plenty of Scandinavian humor.
Based on the bestselling novel by author Fredrik Backman, the film tells the story of Ove (Rolf Lassgård), an isolated, ill-tempered, grumpy old man who finds purpose in his life by vigorously enforcing the too-tough rules of his neighborhood block association. He shuns most people and prefers to spend his days visiting his wife’s grave. When Ove decides that it’s finally time to take matters into his own hands and makes plans to kill himself so he can be reunited with his wife, a young family moves in next door and an unlikely friendship is formed.
While the cantankerous Ove is tortured and haunted by the loss of his adoring wife, he soon learns that he has so much more to live for and finds a new purpose in life by helping others (from his stroke-afflicted former best friend to a homeless teenage homosexual to an injured stray cat). The plot may sound ordinary, but the film is extraordinary.
Ove’s story is told in quite effective and compelling flashbacks, exploring the selective memories and the psyche of a man who has given up on life. With each failed or interrupted suicide attempt (a botched hanging stopped by the doorbell, a shotgun to the head that misfires, a carbon monoxide asphyxiation that flops), Ove remembers a previous part of his life. The story seamlessly switches from present to past, giving the audience a glimpse into Ove’s personality. He’s had plenty of past instances of overwhelming happiness — and more than a few devastating heartbreaks.
There are so many delightful (and tragic) surprises that I don’t want to post any spoilers here by giving away too much of the story. Let’s just say that this film has a big heart. It’s an oftentimes painful tale that’s also very, very funny. The story is sentimental but not overly so; it’s genuinely touching and will definitely pull on your heartstrings. You’d have to have a heart of pure stone not to be touched by this very special and very profound film.
“En Man Som Heter Ov (A Man Called Ove)” is a bittersweet tale of life, love, loss and loneliness, a movie that reminds us all that life is best lived surrounded by friends and family. It’s also one of the best films of the year.
Ove (Rolf Lassgård) lives in a small and close-knit bedroom community in Sweden. Ove is cantankerous and ill-tempered. He greets most people with a snarl instead of a smile, and can’t seem to tolerate his neighbors. Apparently, Ove’s sole raison d’etre is to make his daily rounds, walking the neighborhood to check on who is violating the community rules. We don’t know why Ove is so irritable; even when others try to act nice to him, he is generally crabby.
But there is more to Ove than his temper. As we learn in a series of flashbacks, Ove has had his share of heartache and loss. He misses his wife, Sonja (Ida Engvoll) terribly. As we learn through a series of flashbacks, Sonja was a bright spirit and Ove’s primary source of joy. When Sonja died, he sunk into a funk of sadness and self-pity, with no desire to emerge from it. It is only when Parvenah (Bahar Pars) moves in across the street that Ove begins to re-connnect with the world; Parvenah won’t allow Ove to continue to wallow in his sadness, instead insisting that Ove stay involved with the world and with life. As Ove starts to come out of his shell, we see that Ove is a man with a big heart that has a deep kindness and empathy for his fellow man.
As we learn more about Ove and the experiences that have formed his life, we begin to understand him on a deeper level. At its heart, “A Man Called Ove” is an amazingly touching love story of a husband and wife who built a life together. His and Sonja’s story is filled with both terrible and senseless tragedies and deep joy, and by watching Ove’s story unfold we realize why it so important to not judge a book by its cover. The need for connection runs deep in our humanity, and it is Ove’s ability to reconnect with the world around him that gives him new purpose in life.
It is this truth that is at the heart of “A Man Called Ove”; that love and compassion for one another can give us purpose, that one must join the world to appreciate its value and the joys, both little and big, that it can bring. Sometimes, with the world so divided and so infected by hate and intolerance, we need to be reminded that we are not all that different from one another, that our essential humanity binds us all. Although many films attempt to portray this simple truth, precious few are successful at transcending both the medium and language to capture and convey it.
Special movies like this come along only so often. We’re fortunate to have gotten two of them so far in 2016 (“Sing Street” being the other). Both of them are films you need to see, and I urge you to do so as soon as possible.