A Man Called Ove

Reviewed by Vaughan Ames

Keswick Film Club got off to a great start to its nineteenth year on Sunday night. 170 people braved the rain to come along to see the Swedish comedy drama 'A Man Called Ove'. The film comes from a book which sold 650,000 copies in Sweden (that's about one copy for every fifteen people!) and became the third most watched Swedish film of all time in its home country; so what would we think of it in the UK?

The film almost splits into two parts; in the first part we are introduced to Ove as a grumpy, overpowering character, more interested in enforcing the petty bylaws on his estate than helping anyone (when asked by a neighbour to help her mend the heating he tells her "Use an extra blanket") – Victor Meldrew, eat your heart out! This portrayal is helped by the great casting of Rolf Lassgård as Ove – a huge man who bears down on all from above, scaring them into submission. It is also full of laughs; he is totally loyal to his beloved Saab against all others, especially foreign cars and their owners, and he tells one neighbour that there are five zeros on an Audi; four on the bonnet and one behind the wheel.

When we first meet Ove, his wife has recently died and he has just been laid off: He determines to commit suicide, which he continues to try unsuccessfully throughout most of the film, each attempt ending in comic failure (my favourite was when he thought to throw himself under a train when the person next to him falls on the line and Ove ends up saving his life instead).
The other main character in the film is his new neighbour, Parvaneh, who refuses to let him get away with anything and, with her children, gradually make him see there is still something to live for.

In the second part of the film, which takes it out of the straight farce it might have been, we are gradually told about why he is what he is, and, as importantly, what he used to be. We go back in time to meet him as a shy boy, then as a young man meeting his lovely and loving wife and doing everything for her and for his friends. It is only when his pregnant wife is tragically hurt in a crash, and the baby is killed, that Ove begins to take on the 'white shirts' – the drunken driver, the insurance company, the bus company, the council... – that he changes to the grumpy old man. Right at the end, he realises he has been wrong and begins to help his neighbours again and (inevitably) dies a natural death, surrounded by all his friends...and many wet eyes in the cinema!

This is definitely a contender for 'feel good movie of the year', then. For me, I was sure I would not like it – black comedy is not my thing – but the second part of the film won me over and, like most of the audience, came away admitting that I had really enjoyed it.