A Man Called Ove is the perfect example of a film that romanticizes death to cheat its way into the audience’s heart. This is Sweden’s entry to the foreign language competition of the Oscars. Directed by Hannes Holm, who has adapted that country’s hit novel of the same name, A Man Called Ove is a crowd pleaser with a dash of twisted humor to give it some edge but not really offend anyone.
In the end, the movie does nothing more than idealize death. It’s a specter that looms to make us better people and to raise the departed to saintly status only because they are gone. During a series of botched attempts at suicide, the cantankerous Ove (Rolf Lassgård) reflects on his past as both a child (Viktor Baagøe) and a newlywed (Filip Berg). During these flashbacks there are several funerals, including his parents and his wife, which is no spoiler, as we meet him early on as a widower with a daily habit of visiting the grave of his wife, Sonja (Ida Engvoll).
Death must have had certainly formed this man because he was a sweet child with an honest conscience but lost his parents at a young age. That innocence translated to his early years as a righteous but awkward young man. Then he met the progressive Sonja, who wooed him on a train. All of this informs the background of a man we meet at the start of the film arguing with a cashier over the discount he deserves via a coupon he wants to use for a bundle flowers to put on his wife’s grave.
This is a complex character who deserves more than these plot points, heightened by bright blue skies with white puffy clouds and green grass abound. Though he has been ousted from the community board of his neighborhood, he still makes the rounds looking for code violations. He prefers to call his neighbors idiots and shouts at anyone who he accuses of being an idiot. Still, a Persian family new to the neighborhood is quick to give him a chance and show him that love does not necessarily die with loved ones.
This is death by Disney, moralizing to the audience in the most sugar-coated way possible, beyond a few light curse words and implied violence. Beyond the cheery cinematography by Göran Hallberg, there is Gaute Storaas’ over-the-top and repetitive orchestral score. Then, as the film’s melodramatic finale arrives, there is some slow motion anguish that heightens the film’s bathos, played up more for the sake of the audience than being actually genuine to the characters involved.
Plot holes and logic is often compromised by the filmmaker’s choice of sentiment over clear cause and effect. Even though Ove’s wife’s passed on recently, we only ever see the younger, idealized version of the woman. Maybe it speaks to Ove’s own fascination with nostalgia, but this is never explored in the movie. Beyond that, conflicts are conveniently resolved by the existence of the internet and never-seen-plot twists. Characters also get to know each other only because they do “research” or reference “Google.”
In the end, A Man Called Ove is one of those easy Oscar entries that speaks to world cinema’s pandering to the Hollywood market. A glossy film about a dark subject, in the end, it does a disservice to what death really means in life, and its close grim ties to existence. It’s polished up for mass consumption and a few easy laughs — a line to cross when we get there but offers little by a way of an honest reflection of death’s complex relationship with lived, human actualization.
A Man Called Ove runs 116 minutes, is in Swedish with English subtitles and is rated PG-13. It opens this Friday, Oct. 28 at the following locations in our South Florida area:
- Tower Theater Miami
- O Cinema Miami Beach
- AMC Sunset Place in South Miami
- AMC Aventura Aventura
- The Classic Gateway Theatre in The Classic Gateway Theatre
- Living Room Theaters FAU in Boca Raton
- Movies of Lake Worth
- Movies of Delray
For theaters in other parts of the U.S., visit this link and select “theaters.” It continues to roll out across the U.S. through January of next year. Music Box Films provided all images in this post and a DVD screener for the purpose of this review.