A MAN CALLED OVE (En man som heter Ove)
Music Box Films
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, Shockya
Grade: B+
Director:  Hannes Holm
Written by: Hannes Holm based on Fredrik Backman’s novel
Cast: Rolf Lassgård, Bahar Pars, Filip Berg, Ida Engvoll, Tobias Almborg, Klas Wiljergard
Screened at: Review 2, NYC, 9/15/16
Opens: September 30, 2016

In Charles Dickens’ 1843 novel “A Christmas Carol,” Scrooge changes from one of the world’s most famous curmudgeons (“If I could work my will, every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart”) to a regular human being (“He became as good a man as the city ever knew”), but that transformation required the presence of three supernatural beings.  In a similar vein, the grouchy title character in Hannes Holm’s Swedish narrative “A Man Called Ove” adapted by the director from Fredrick Backman’s novel does not become exactly a model citizen as he was in his youth, but he mellows out to a great extent given a relationship with a new, Iranian-Swedish neighbor and with a battle-scarred cat.  The film, shot north of  Gothenburg in Trollhättan and on the west coast at Västra Götalands Iän, and which was nominated for six Guldbagge (Swedish Oscar) awards, features sixty-year-old Shakespearian actor Rolf Lassgård as the elderly gent while Filip Berg fills in as twenty-something Ove and Viktor Baagøe as the boy of seven years.

This crowd-pleaser, filled with sentimental music, is of the sort that should make the audience both laugh and cry, but there is nothing soap-opera-ish about the production.  Ove is not the sort to undergo an unrealistically radical transformation: that would require the presence of three ghosts.  Still, you’ve got to hand it to his neighbors, most of whom were so fed up with his nit-picking obeisance to every rule and every sign, that they voted him out as chair of the condominium and replaced him with a more even-handed fellow.

Ove would even puts his life on the line if a car or van attempts to cross the tiled streets through which driving is forbidden.  He thinks nothing of standing in front of the vehicle like Tank Man at Tienanmen Square during the pro-democracy rally in China in 1989.  A widower at fifty-nine, he shows his attachment to his departed wife Sonja (Ida Engvoll) by visiting her grave daily, laying flowers, telling her how much he misses her.   He does appear to have been a regular guy before her death, as he relates to us through flashbacks each time he tries suicide, whether by carbon monoxide or the rope (the latter is returned to the store when it breaks).  He worshipped his father (Stefan Gödicke), a man who hugged his boy only once, upon saving him from a collision with a train.  We learn as well that he met his future wife Sonja as he, now a young man, rode with her on a 6.30 a.m. train.

The one aspect of the picture that’s unrealistic is the relationship between Sonja, who is bright, assertive, and studying to be a teacher, and Ove, who is tongue-tied and who as a train cleaner is of a different social class.  Nonetheless she helps him to overcome his lack of education (he studies to become an engineer) and to look forward to the birth of their first child.  Two tragedies accompany their bond, the principal causes of his turning against the world, calling everyone “idiot,” and leading to suicide attempts.  All this changes when a new woman, Parvaneh (Bahar Pars) moves in with the Swedish-born Patrick (Tobias Almborg).  She gets him to try her Persian cooking, specifically rice with saffron, and to realize that not all the world insists on meat and two vegetables.  She does not take nonsense from him, and by agreeing to be given driving lessons from Ove, she fulfills his need, which is everyone’s need: that is, to be needed.

The film is not without humor, Swedish-style humor that is, such as Ove’s championing of his country’s Saab autos over other people’s Volvos.  Even his suicide attempts end humorously.  Backman’s novel is brought to cinematic life under the direction of Hannes Holm, whose previous “The Andersson’s Hit the Road” is a broad comedy about a family’s trip to Italy.  Holm may not be a household word on this side of the Atlantic, but hehas sixteen director’s credits to his résumé.  Skol.

Rated PG-13.  116 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – B+


By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

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