Based on Fredrik Backman’s 2012 novel, A Man Called Ove details the woes of Ove (Rolf Lassgård), a bolshy and ill-tempered Swedish man in his late 50s, fraught with grief at the passing of his wife Sonja (Ida Engvoll) some years prior. He lives on a small housing association development that he and neighbour Rune (Börje Lundberg) had once been elected to co-manage – Ove does his ‘rounds’ to check everything as it should be each morning – but rather than look to those around him for support, he looks inwardly, angered and frustrated.
Pushed out of his long term job and with seemingly nothing to live for, Ove attempts to take his own life on a number of occasions early on, only to be stopped in his tracks by a combination of the arrival of new neighbours and comically, the strength of the rope he tries to hang himself with. It is only at this point that we see Ove’s life seem to start again, albeit gradually, this time not gripped by his grief – but freed by it.
We are given glimpses into his early life; his obsession with cars (especially Saabs) and mechanics, the sudden deaths of his parents, his chance meeting with Sonja on a train, all of it painting the picture of a good, honest man with simple hopes and ambitions. There is a definite link between young Ove and his older self; both socially awkward, rigid and often emotionally cold, but Sonja’s death brings about the worst in him – traits she no doubt deflected while she was alive.
Ove also comes across very much as a doer, which doesn’t seem to lend itself well to him coping with his grief. This is worsened by a tragic coach accident on holiday that sees Sonja paralysed from the waist down, leaving Ove feeling helpless for the first time in his life. He does his best, campaigning for a ramp to be built at the local school Sonja works at, only to be left disappointed by people’s refusal to help – such is his stubbornness, he decides to build his own.
Though the same as any cliched story of a miserable, isolated old man, the character chosen to revive his simple life is Pravaneh (Bahar Pars), who moves in next door with her children and husband. Although at first an annoyance to Ove, her persistence in trying to form a friendship eventually breaks down his defences and over the course of the film he becomes slowly energised by Pravaneh’s love and warmth.
Although Lassgard excels as Ove, the film remains a predictable tale – it draws to a close with Ove’s eventual passing – that has been told numerous times over. It delivers as a feel-good film in the most obvious of senses, but it lacks the imagination and substance to truly make you feel anything.