Sentimentality can be tricky in a film. If a director lays it on too thick, it can seem manipulative. Well, there’s plenty of sentimentality in the recent Swedish film entitled A Man Called Ove. The story is from a novel of the same name by Fredrick Backman—and its publication was one of those miracles you love to hear about where nobody would publish it—finally a smaller house decided to give the book a try, and it became a huge hit in Sweden and then around the world. It’s been adapted now into a film by writer-director Hannes Holm.
The title character Ove, played by Rolf Lassgard, is a gruff older man obsessed with keeping everything in a certain order at the small housing development he lives in. The fence must be locked, no bicycle parking here, no cars allowed to drive there, and so on. Lassgard is an excellent curmudgeon, just enough of a misanthropist to be funny, and just mean enough to be frustrating without being scary. Sonja, his wife for forty years, has recently died, and so underneath the gruffness there is terrible grief that only gets expressed through anger.
Ove decides to commit suicide so that he can join her. During the various suicide attempts, we flash back to his childhood, youth and manhood, in which there were awful tragedies. It’s an odd and interesting way to present a back story. The nature of Ove’s misfortunes, and his impossibly perfect and beautiful wife Sonja, are examples of how sentimentality can seem, at least in hindsight, to be more than a bit contrived.
But guess what? The film still got to me, and I think there are two major reasons. First of all, the movie is very funny. The screenplay’s inventive sense of humor sets you up perfectly for the tears. Secondly, the tenderness in this film is earned. A young family moves in, and the mother (who is Iranian), makes friends with Ove despite his off-putting behavior. She’s too new to the community to have fixed ideas about him. Being inclusive, it turns out, is more healing than continuing to push people away. A Man Called Ove is about nurturing the best in us rather than expecting the worst.
A Man Called Ove- Flicks with the Film Snob Chris Dashiell is produced at KXCI studios in Tucson Arizona.