(We'll ignore the fact that I'm seeing Captain Underpants at the weekend. But there will be a review.)
Whilst I settled down with my glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, I was ready for probably my only Scandi comedy drama of the year.
A Man Called Ove was actually released in late 2015 in Sweden, but didn't make it to the UK until June this year. Based of Fredrik Backman's 2012 book of the same name, the story follows Ove, the ultimate grumpy old man, as he repeatedly attempts to commit suicide - but something more important just keeps coming up.
When we first meet Ove, we know about this much: he's 59, his wife has recently passed away, he's just been fired from his job as an engineer, and he's pretty much had enough of the world. The offbeat and genuinely funny opening montage, in which Ove verbally abuses a lady in a flower shop and goes around setting his neighbourhood to rights, shows him as a fussy, uptight and downright mardy stickler for the rules. However, even at this early stage in the film, we get a sense that there's a lot about Ove we don't know.
|The original casting for 'Better Call Saul'|
The real insight begins when he decides to commit suicide (for the first time). Just as he's securing the rope around his neck (literally), he's interrupted - by the damn noisy neighbours. This is the first of a string of repeated suicide attempts throughout the film, which, while they may sound depressing, actually serve two very important purposes:
- Each time Ove is 'about to die', he sees elements of his earlier life - his childhood, working life and marriage - flash before his eyes. These extended flashback scenes, which are romanticised and evocative in tone of films like Forrest Gump and Big Fish, uncover a tragic past in which Ove has repeatedly loved and lost. By the time we get halfway through the film, our sympathies are 100% on his side.
- Every one of Ove's suicide attempts gets rudely interrupted at the very last moment with superb comic timing - be it someone illegally driving through his housing estate, children banging on the window, or a pregnant lady just needing a lift. Soon we come to expect these interruptions, already smiling as he secures a noose around his neck. Every time the film gets too close to an overly sentimental moment, we are pulled back at the last minute with a proper funny skit.
|"That is an impressive packed lunch"|
The first interruption happens when Parveneh, a Persian immigrant, moves into the neighbourhood with her children and Swedish husband, Patrick. From their first crash landing into the estate, Ove steps in to make sure they are playing by the rules. However, he's soon won over by Parveneh's refreshing frankness, generosity and insistence that he is a good person (and her cute kids help). When I reflected on this film after leaving the cinema, I was reminded of Pixar's Up: the old man who has lost all hope in the world's humanity after losing his loved one is brought back down to earth with new people that need him.
Some of the funniest scenes in the film revolve around his relationship with Parveneh, and the way in which they deliver hard truths to each other. His speech to her in the car during their less than successful driving lesson had the whole audience in fits.
|"This suit was more static than I thought..."|
A Man Called Ove is masterful at using the light and the shade to reflect the bittersweet nature of real life. Moments of very real distress and sadness are brought into relief through some killer one liners or well timed interruptions, demonstrated beautifully when Ove has a heart attack and, whilst falling to the floor, insists that the ambulances don't drive into the pedestrianised estate.
It's also film that demonstrates how actions speak louder than words. Whilst Ove is unusually quiet and even solemn, he always chooses to do what's right - which is to do everything in his power to help others. As much as he tries to keep to himself, his ultimate good nature and handiness attracts more friends than he ever bargains for.
Most strikingly, the film constantly reminds us of the unpredictability of life, by sitting on a knife edge between life and death. As Ove's late wife Sonja says, "Either we die, or we live". Both, it turns out, are a difficult commitment. A surprisingly heartwarming and uplifting film that I would recommend if you get the chance to see it.