Review: A Man Called Ove

Having been nominated for two Oscars earlier this year, including the Best Foreign Language award, A Man Called Ove is finally getting released in Australia. Even without the Oscar push, Ove should have no trouble charming the pants off Aussie audiences.

Based on a hugely popular book in Sweden, this is the story of Ove (veteran actor Rolf Lassgård). He’s a very grumpy man and a stickler for rules, always admonishing others in his gated community for not adhering to the letter of the law.

At 59, Ove is a widower, and he’s just been given his marching orders at work after decades of loyal service. Despondent, he feels he has nothing to live for. Just as he’s about to hang himself at home, he sees his new neighbour parking his car incorrectly. Obviously hanging himself will just have to wait until he’s sorted out the offending motorist.

This becomes a recurring theme in the film. Every time Ove thinks he’s getting a quiet moment to off himself, someone interrupts him. But before the inevitable interruption, his mind slips back in time to when he was in his 20s and he met the love of his life, Sonja (Ida Engvoll). The courtship of young Ove (now played by Peter Berg) and Sonja is the stuff of great screen romance, and Berg and Engvoll share a wonderful chemistry. Slowly these scenes bring into view the reason for Ove’s anger with the world.

Back in the present, Ove just wants to be left alone, but finds it increasingly difficult to avoid his new neighbour Parvaneh (Bahar Pars), a heavily pregnant Iranian woman with a Swedish husband and two kids. Parvaneh takes little notice of Ove’s surliness, and neither do her kids.

The targets for Ove’s ire aren’t what you might expect. He’s not particularly bothered by racial minorities, and the sexual preferences of others are the least of his concerns. What really riles him are people who drive the wrong makes of car. Ove, who has driven Saabs all his life, has a life-long feud with one of his neighbours simply because he drives a Volvo. The escalating feud, relayed in a montage with various models of Saabs and Volvos, is a comic highlight.

Ove also gets saddled with a cat that follows him everywhere, even to his wife’s graveside, where Ove spends a lot of time telling the deceased Ida about his daily life.

If this was a Hollywood studio film, it’s easy to imagine it spilling over into shmaltz and blunt messages, but the film stays on the right side of sentimentality, and the moments where Ove shows his tender side feel well earned and truly welcomed.

Lassgard, who played the original Wallander in the series of films in the 1990s, and was unforgettable in After The Wedding, is quite unrecognisable, courtesy of the remarkable make-up, which earned the film its second Oscar nomination. He is the heart and soul of the film, and his performance is pitch-perfect.

Hannes Holm’s direction isn’t always quite so subtle, especially towards the end. Likewise composer Gaute Storaas’ musical cues become more insistent as the film progresses.

Ove is a great comic creation, and the film is well worth watching for the performances and script, but with a lighter directorial touch it could have really soared.     

✭✭✭ ½

A Man Called Ove is in limited release from March 30

Richard Leathem @dickiegee