At 59, but looking older, Ove is a curmudgeon. He lives alone, mourning his deceased wife, and patrolling his neatly planned housing community where he has previously been the president of the homeowners association. Each day he walks the same route, checking the same signs and gates, and writing warning for those who have offended in some way. In almost all of these scenes, you might be excused for expecting him to yell “GET OFF MY LAWN!”
At the start of the film, he’s still going to work, at the same industrial job he’s held since he was 16. His young bosses seem terrified at the prospect of suggesting he retire until he does exactly that, on the spot, to their great surprise. This frees him up to do what he most wants, which is to commit suicide and join his wife.
“A Man Called Ove” is a dark comedy of significant depth. We get to know Ove through the involvement of his new neighbor – a well-meaning woman who has the misfortune of immediately breaking his cardinal rule by having the family car on the traffic-free walkway between the houses. She and others also interrupt several clumsy suicide attempts, which in turn lead Ove to apologize to his dead wife, on a daily basis for not having died yet.
There are moments in the film when it feels a little like somebody decided to remake “Gran Torino” as a comedy. I was also reminded of last year’s delightful, and also Swedish, “The 100 Year Old-Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared.” That film had some of the most effective extreme aging makeup for which it was Oscar nominated. By comparison, in “A Man Called Ove,” the actor and character are of a similar age but the hair and makeup work takes a robust, strong man (Rolf Lassgård who has played TV cops such as Kurt Wallander, prior to the Kenneth Branagh English language remakes found on Netflix) and makes him look genuinely old before his time. And both films have interesting approaches to both death and flashbacks.
Lassgård is strong in the lead role, or at least in most of the lead role. If the film has a weakness, it’s in those flashback sequences where Ove is played as a boy and as a young man by two other actors. Both are good but there’s too much of an age progression jump between the younger and older adult versions of Ove. This is highlighted during an amusing flashback sequence that features the rivalry between Ove and his friend as depicted in their choice of Saab versus Volvo cars (the Swedish equivalent of a Ford versus Chevrolet argument). At one point, the car changes and so does the actor, with the car jumping a few years forward as the character seems to jump decades.
But, really, that’s a small issue in what’s otherwise a wonderful film. “A Man Called Ove” is playing in the Sacramento area, exclusively at the Tower Theatre, and it’s not just the best Swedish film about life and death I’ve seen this week, it’s also one of the most enjoyable films of any genre I’ve seen this year.