Darkly humorous Swedish tale about the flowering of an old man’s better nature

Teodosia Dobriyanova on Hannes Holm’s ‘A Man Called Ove / En man som heter Ove’ (2015)

“I think this is the first time you have to wait for me”, is a touching and deeply sentimental sentence that old Ove (Rolf Lassgård) whispers sat by the grave of his recently deceased wife. But this is far from the first words he utters on the screen of Hannes Holm’s adaptation of Fredrick Backman’s Swedish novel A Man Called Ove. Instead, Ove’s opening line sounds a lot like: “The queue begins after me”, as he pulls an old lady trying to pay for her bouquet at a flower market. A couple of minutes in and we’re —this is one angry old man.

Grumpy Ove lives in a residential complex in what appears to be suburban Sweden. Having lost his wife Sonja (Ida Egvoll) six months ago, his goal is to reunite with her in the afterlife. In the meantime, he defends his ideal—keeping order in the complex he lives in. Alas, all he meets is misunderstanding. Ove condemns everyone who crosses his path as “idiots”, and his ultimate enemies are “the whiteshirts”—an epithet he uses to refer to bureaucratic servants. It seems that nobody around shares the old man’s values anymore. Thus, Ove has no reasons to stay here and decides to quicken the process of going on the other side.

Holm’s film seems to favour the idea of fate and so each of Ove’s suicidal attempts fails. However, every time Ove almost puts an end to his life, his brain triggers memories of the past and so his life is reconstructed in front of us in flashbacks while Ove himself lies unconscious. As soon as he wakes up, we are back to the present where some “idiots” keep vitiating his suicidal attempts. The first few times those intruders are the new family next door. A clumsy man in his thirties, his pregnant Iranian wife Parvaneh (Bahar Pars), and their two daughters. A bit aggressive in her otherwise good intentions, Parvaneh makes her way to grumpy Ove’s heart and something of a friendship begins to form, setting the beginning of a character transformation.

A Man Called Ove resembles a hero’s journey tale in which the protagonist’s life is not quite finished until he learns some lessons, like Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino (2008), Bill Murray in Groundhog Day (1993) or Scrooge in A Christmas Carol (1843). Ove decides to walk this road and towards the end of the film, he has reconciled his relationships with people and has signed some sort of a treaty with the world. The last time we hear him sigh “Idiot!” is the first time he uses it to refer to himself during a visit to his wife’s grave. From that moment until the end of the film, the old man does not refer to anyone else as an “idiot”. Finally, Ove accomplished his goal, this time not through suicide but because, wait for it, “his heart is too big”, as officially diagnosed by his doctor. True story. And whether you find that delightful or unbearably cheesy likely depends on your disposition.

At moments Holm’s adaptation indulges in preparing us cheese platters, but it nevertheless constructs a heartwarming ordinary-man story spiced with the events that life inevitably serves at each of our tables. Restraining from more culinary metaphors, what a better way to tell such a story but through dark humour. After all, isn’t this the genre closest to our off-screen lives? And what are we all but tiny figures living in small boxes placed on a spinning circle? And what do we leave after us, if not stories?

Teodosia Dobriyanova

By Teodosia Dobriyanova

Teodosia Dobriyanova is a writer, programmer, and documentary filmmaker based in London. She graduated in Film Studies (BA) from King’s College London (BA) and Ethnographic and Documentary Film (MA) from University College London. She has written for Dirty Movies, Filmotomy, and New East Cinema.