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16 October 2020

En man som heter Ove (2015)

Directed by Hannes Holm
Music: Gaute Storas
Rolf Lassgård, Bahar Pars, Börje Lundberg,
Zozan Akgün, Viktor Baagøe,  Filip Berg,
Ida Engyoll, Chatarina Larsson,
Börje Lundberg, Nellie Jamarani,
Zozan Akgün
In the book on which this film is based, Fredrik Backman writes:We always think there's enough time to do things with other people. Time to say things to them. And then something happens and then we stand there holding on to words like 'if'.”

I relate to that. 

But... I needed a film that would make me feel better about the world we live in, a reminder that love and compassion have not become anachronistic ideals; that humans don't exist in isolation. We need social contact.

Ove (Rolf Lassgård) is a stereotypical neighbourhood crank – an angry old man who patrols the community making sure that gates are locked, and that everyone follows long-forsaken rules. When the film opens, he’s just lost his job as factory foreman. 

Ove is mourning the untimely death of his beloved wife, Sonja, six months earlier, and hopes to join her as soon as possible.

Hence, there are multiple suicide attempts, each triggering a flashback. We see glimpses of Ove’s life so far – one flashback sees him as a boy (Viktor Baagøe), being raised by his father, an engine driver who’s a single parent. Another sees him imbibing his father’s principles (one of which is he should always buy a Saab). As young Ove grows up, his father encourages him to be educated. Then, when the young man graduates, the father is so proud that he’s busy showing everyone at the railway yard his son’s mark sheet – alas, his inattention costs him dear. 

Young Ove (Filip Berg) is given his father’s job, and thus begins a new chapter in his life. And then one day, he meets Sonja (Ida Engvoll), a librarian, on the train. The shy young man blossoms under Sonja’s teasing joie de vivre, and soon they are dating each other.

As their relationship grows, Sonja encourages him to study further, and no one could be happier than she when he graduates. Soon, she is pregnant, and they decide that since travel would be circumscribed once the baby arrives, they would go for a long vacation. On the drive back, the bus they are in has an accident and Sonja is handicapped. 

Ove is heartbroken but Sonja’s never-say-die spirit gives him courage. She works hard to earn her teacher certification, and when a prospective employer refuses her a job because the school is not handicap-friendly, Ove builds an accessibility ramp overnight. When Sonja dies, Ove, whose grouchiness has managed to estrange everyone close to him, is alone. 

Unable to bear her absence, he plans many different ways to kill himself. Unfortunately for Ove, each attempt is foiled by someone or something. Mostly, it is his scrupulous sense of duty that comes in the way. His first attempt (covering the room with plastic so the room will still be clean after he shoots himself with a shotgun) is interrupted by someone knocking over his mailbox. Ove rushes out to give them a piece of his mind. They turn out to be his new neighbours – a heavily pregnant Parvaneh (Bahar Pars), her husband (Tobias Almborg) and their two little daughters, Sepideh (Nelly Jamarani ) and Nasnin (Zozan Akgun). 

His second attempt to kill himself by carbon monoxide poisoning is foiled again by Parvaneh, who needs his help to go to the hospital because her clumsy husband has had an accident. While there, he’s left to take care of the two kids but is thrown out because he creates a scene.

The third time, he wanders off to the railway station so he can throw himself under a train. Unfortunately for him, a passenger standing next to him faints and falls on the tracks. Since no one makes a move, Ove is forced to postpone his own death and jump down and save the man. 

Meanwhile, Parvaneh, who’s like a steamroller, asks Ove to help her learn to drive. Since she doesn’t seem to take ‘No’ for an answer, Ove agrees.

During the lessons, he tells her a little about his friendship with Rune (Börje Lundberg) and his wife, Anita (Chatarina Larsson), how they shared the same interests, how they had grown apart because Rune preferred Volvos and later BMWs, how Rune had betrayed him by taking his place as President of the Residents Association… 

On one of their drives, Ove decides to return a bike that he had confiscated from a young teen (who had left it parked where it shouldn’t have been), Adrian (Simon Edenroth).

Adrian works in a kebab shop where Ove meets his colleague, Mirsad (Poyan Karimi). He shocks Parvaneh when he asks Mirsad whether he was ‘one of those’. When Mirsad defiantly admits he’s gay, Ove turns to Parvaneh and says, ‘See? I told you.” He’s outspoken but he doesn’t shun Mirsad for being who he is. In fact, later on, it’s to Ove that Adrian turns when Mirsad is thrown out of his house by his father.  

And Parvaneh is still being a nosy, albeit no-nonsense friend. She co-opts him into babysitting her kids, while she’s still in hospital.  Childless Ove has no idea what to do with them, but the kids are too little to mind anyway, and their innocent affection warms the cockles of his heart.

(He still hates the neighbourhood cat, though.)  It is this forced friendship, however, that forces Ove to live, by not letting him die. 

En man som heter Ove is adapted from Frederik Backman’s novel of the same name, and co-written by him and director, Hannes Holm. The story of a grumpy old man humanised by love and compassion has been told before, with varying degrees of success, and En man som heter Ove could have deteriorated into a puddling pool of saccharine. That it doesn’t is as much testimony to the screenplay and the director’s light touch on the sentimental scenes, as it is to the lead actor’s brilliantly composed performance as the curmudgeonly Ove. (As also a running commentary on how the Saab is better than the Volvo.)

As Ove, Lassgård is perpetually seething – at someone, or something that has irritated him. However, behind that barely concealed anger is a searing loneliness, and Lassgård’s finely tuned performance allows you a glimpse into the dichotomy of the man. Ove’s monologues at his wife’s grave gives us a glimpse of a lonely, old man who finds life not worth living without her by his side. The repetitiveness – in the suicide attempts, and their disruption – serves to give us a closer look at how Ove is changing, and uneasily, you’re aware that you’re changing your perceptions of him as well.
For, to put it simply, Ove is simply not likeable. He’s that annoying neighbour whose pedantic adherence to rules just makes life difficult for everyone else. The writer-director’s screenplay draws poignantly on the need for human connection, the raison d'être to live. Ove is stereotypical no doubt, but the story behind his sadness and Lassgård's performance humanise him.
Bahar Pars is a great foil to the grumpy Ove. She's friendly, almost too-sociable, and doesn't seem to know (or care) that Ove doesn't want her intrusions into his daily life. In her bid to run her chaotic household, not helped by her loving but clumsy husband, even her dark curls bustle with energy.  But it is her genuine caring for a lonely, old man that comes through Pars' emoting.
En man som heter Ove
is emotionally manipulative, no doubt, but it does make you see the world afresh – a world that is indeed worth living in. A world in which discipline and duty meet love and compassion. A world in which no man is an island. It allows us to take stock of how easily we box people into narratives, based on first impressions. And how doing so traps all of us into ‘us’ and ‘them’, isolating us in the dark confines of our own pettiness. Above all, En man som heter Ove shows us the power of a good story to draw us out – and in. 

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