Review: "A Man Called Ove" tackles the beast of depression

"A Man Called Ove isn't a great film, but it's a surprisingly good one"



Fun Facts:

"Ove" is pronounced oo-vay.

And the Swedish production, based on the 2012 novel by Fredrik Backman, was the country's Best Foreign Language Film entry in the 89th Academy Awards. The crowd-pleaser is the fifth most financially successful Swedish film in the history of the country.

I share this information because I realize that the movie is a tough sell. The premise, which I'll get to in a minute, isn't exactly groundbreaking, the cast doesn't include any names familiar within our shores, it's not sexy and it's subtitled.

But the film is a nice mix of bitter and sweet, with a strong cast. A Man Called Ove isn't a great film, but it's a surprisingly good one. I enjoyed it more than I expected to and I think many of you will react similarly if you decide to give it a shot.

Ove (remember, it's oo-vay) is a grouchy old man. Writer-director Hannes Holm shows us how he got that way and if he can learn to savor life again. Rolf Lassgard plays contemporary Ove, with Filip Berg portraying him as a younger fellow and Viktor Baagoe as a boy.

Present-day Ove is a thundering pest. He used to be chairman of the local residents' association. He was voted out, but that doesn't stop him from bellowing about any infractions he notices to the suburban group's rules. He has plenty of time to patrol the neighborhood — despite his fine record, he has been let go from his job.

We soon learn that Ove's is also mourning the death of his wife and plans to join her. He attempts suicide several times during the film, but proves to be bad at it, which just makes him crankier. Flashbacks show us Ove's childhood in a small town, where he triumphs over the obstacles he faces thanks to his determined attitude. He finds love:
for a teacher on a train and for Saab automobiles (I've never paid much attention to cars, but I gather that this is a running joke that aficionados will enjoy).

Ove's would-be destructive lifestyle is interrupted when neighbors shove their way into his life. Pregnant Parvaneh (Bahar Pars) sees the neighborhood as ... a neighborhood, and blithely dismisses Ove's attempts to be rid of her. She has two young daughters (Nelly Jamarani and Zozan Akgun) and an affable husband named Patrik (Tobias Almborg with none of the handiness Ove considers essential.

Ove doesn't like these people, but he recognizes they need help and, while he organizes his next effort to kill himself, he kinda, sorta, becomes their honorary uncle.

Those are the basic elements of the film: complaining, suicide attempts, graveside conversations, flashbacks and baby steps toward a healthier frame of mind.

Depression is an insidious beast determined to steal the life from us. Whenever someone talks with me about their emotional distress, I suggest a number of things they can do to combat it. First among my suggestions is finding someone else that needs help and helping them. It is hard to feel lousy when you're focused on helping someone else feel better.

I like A Man Called Ove because it reinforces that simple, life-saving idea: You can fight the forces of darkness by helping someone fight the forces of darkness.

What else to tell you? I didn't think much of the suicide attempts — not because I thought they were dramatically invalid, but because I thought some of them were unconvincingly staged. On the occasions where I noticed the soundtrack, it seemed pushy. If I notice what a soundtrack is trying to make me feel, I become as ornery as Ove.

On the plus side, the cast is exceptional, with Rolf Lassgard as old Ove and Bahar Pars as his intrusive neighbor taking top honors. Yes, the story gets sentimental, but it's dark when it needs to be. And it's funny, warm and life-affirming. We can all benefit from a dose of life affirmation from time to time, don't you think? Say oo-vay.


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