Film Review: Exceptionally Well-Crafted Drama ‘A Man Called Ove’ Celebrates The Simple Magic of Reaching Out
An ill-tempered, isolated retiree who spends his days enforcing block association rules and visiting his wife’s grave, has finally given up on life just as an unlikely friendship develops with his boisterous new neighbours.
Director: Hannes Holm
Cast: Rolf Lassgård, Bahar Pars, Filip Berg, Ida Engvoll
Language: Sweden, Persian
Runtime: 116 minutes
Based on the best-selling novel of the same name, A Man Called Ove is an exceptionally heartening drama. It is as if the unforgettable emotional rollercoaster that is the opening sequence of Pixar film Up is expanded upon; where the talking dog and flying house are swapped out for both grim realities and pure, unfiltered joy. The Swedish black comedy strikes a near-perfect tonal balance between moods, thriving in the narrow space where life’s beauty is truly allowed to shine.
Every morning, the film’s ill-tempered titular character stomps around his neighbourhood enforcing community rules, while being reprehensibly rude to just about everyone — except his dead wife Sonja (Ida Engvoli) whose grave Ove (Rolf Lassgård) visits every day. Isolated, depressed, and unable to open up about his pain, being let go from his job is seemingly the last straw. Yet as he attempts to end it all, he is distracted by his rowdy new neighbours.
A Man Called Ove follows the familiar format of life-changing friendships. What the film brings to the table isn’t with subversion or fresh twists, but with its graceful and astute handling of its themes. Despite countless instances bound to crack a smile, oversentimentality is perhaps one of the last emotional takeaways from the film.
A disturbingly quiet and inconspicuous atmosphere hangs above Ove’s suicide attempts — so unsettlingly vivid, in fact, that a warning may be necessary for the unprepared. However, the film also has the maturity to avoid exploiting these depictions. They remain at the back of the head, protruding and shaping how the audience response to Ove’s actions while magnifying both the simple joys and the tensions in even the most mundane of interactions.
Frequent flashbacks chronicling Ove’s life not only explain his ugly behaviour but also detail the wondrous love he shared with his wife. Avoiding genre cliches, Ove’s heart is not thawed through unexplainable coincidences but through the veritable yet magic of human interaction.
At one point proclaiming that his life began and ended with Sonja, the depth of pain and suffering Ove submerges himself in is perfectly showcased through Rolf’s expert performances, bringing to screen plenty of heartbreaking moments. With flashbacks from his perspective, Sonja is practically beaming in every scene she is in, with Ida infusing her character with irresistibly inviting and saint-like charm.
The friendship Ove shares with his neighbour and young mother Parvaneh (Bahar Pars) is far less whimsical but almost equally comforting. Sharing concern, impatience and eventual understanding, how their friendship eventually bubbles into an outlet of vulnerability for Ove is poignant, gentle, and well-earned. When saccharine tones do finally seep in by the tail end of the film, they leave behind a memorable bittersweetness that will echo long after its end credits.
A Man Called Ove is a superbly written film that oh-so beautifully highlights the peaks and valleys of life. The film hardly pulls away from Ove’s sorrow either, presenting a heartwrenching reminder of the isolation faced by the elderly in today’s fast-moving world. How Ove’s story unfolds, brought forward by highlighting the simple act of reaching out, makes for a tremendously hearty watch.
A Man Called Ove will be screening this Sunday, 21 March, as part of Happiness Film Festival 2021. The screening will be preceded by National Youth Film Award-winning local short film Pigeonhole, directed by Lim Mei Fong, with a post-screening panel discussing the lesions about happiness that the elderly can teach us and how we can reach out to the elderly.
About Happiness Film Festival 2021
Following a hiatus in 2020, the Happiness Film Festival is back in 2021 honing in on the theme “An Inclusive Journey Towards Happiness”. Approaching this theme are six excellent films that will be showcased over two weekends from 19 to 28 March, in conjunction with the UN’s International Day of Happiness on 20 March.
The Happiness Film Festival 2021 is spearheaded by the Happiness Initiative, a Singapore-based social enterprise that aims to translate the science of happiness and well-being into actionable insights for optimal societal outcomes. The festival is organised in partnership with the National Youth Council. Find out the festival from its website, and get the latest updates from the Happiness Initiative through their Facebook page.