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Sunday, February 26, 2017

A Man Called Ove

One of the nominees for Best Foreign Language Oscar, as well as for Best Makeup and Hairstyles, is A Man Called Ove, from Sweden, written and directed by Hannes Holm. It is a curious hybrid of a black comedy and a tearjerker, and may remind you of films like Grand Torino and St. Vincent, where a grumpy old man is brought back to the world by the love of children and/or pets.

Ove is a 59-year-old grouch who stalks his housing project like a martinet, picking up cigarette butts, writing down the license plates of parking transgressors, and insulting everyone who comes in his path. He is in deep mourning of his late wife, and visits her grave regularly. When he is laid off from the job he has had since he was a teenager, he decides to kill himself.

But every suicide attempt is interrupted by someone asking for a good deed. During his attempts he remembers his life. He was a nice guy, handy with tools (he learned cars from his father and developed a life-long love of Saab). He is socially awkward, but meets a young woman on a train who is way above his station, but she loves him anyway and they marry. She is injured in a bus accident, and dies of cancer, and he feels he has nothing to live for.

But he keeps getting interrupted, especially by a young Iranian woman who lives across the path. Eventually they develop a friendship, and he grows to dote on their children. He takes in a stray cat. He opens up about his past and tries to move forward.

This may sound dreadful, but it plays better than it reads. Partly this is due to Holm's delicate balance of the two genres. It is genuinely funny (he ends a friendship with a man because he drives a Volvo) and it may earn a tear or two at the end. It's also helped greatly by the lead performance of Rolf Lassgård, who manages to take a cliche character, the grumpy old man, and make him real.

I have only one major question--when did he go sour? Right after his wife's death? If so, that must have been quite a transformation. We don't really see when he went from good guy to bad. The movie is almost two hours but one scene of him realizing he hated life might have been necessary.

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