The Rapidian

Review of "A Man Called Ove" at UICA

Rolf Lassgard is magnificent in sentimental, appealing film
Rolf Lassgard as the titular Ove

Rolf Lassgard as the titular Ove /Courtesy of Music Box Films

Look, I get it: you're not interested in subtitled films. You go to the theater to watch movies, not read them; to be entertained, not work. And no, you're not suggesting that reading isn't entertaining, and anyway what does it matter? Aren't I supposed to be tolerant of differences?

Well, my tolerance only extends so far. And the thing is, you'd love this one.

Start with the protagonist (why not? The movie does). Ove (Rolf Lassgard) is a widower. He's angry at the world because his wife is no longer in it. Determined to kill himself and join her, he finds that the decision has brought him no peace; he still has his responsibilities, which only delay him. Daily indignities combine with the loss of his job to tip the scale, seemingly fatally: it is time. So he makes a noose.

I know: sounds like a blast.

But one further indignity, the arrival of new neighbors, saves him just in time. (There are several "just in time" moments in the film, which is not to its credit). The most vibrant of the neighbors is Parvaneh (Bahar Pars), a pregnant wife and mother who immigrated to Sweden from Iran. She is unafraid of Ove, seeing through his contentiousness to the decency beneath - or at least she needs a man who doesn't fall off ladders. They form an unlikely but lasting bond. 

As he continues (despite his best efforts) to live, we learn about his past. It was a painful one, although lightened by the chance arrival of a warm and buck-toothed beauty, Sonja (Ida Engvoll). They build a life together. Knowing that it will come to an end makes the pain fueling the older Ove's rage clearer and sharper. 

The flashbacks, like the film, are imperfect; I liked Ove before he saved an old man and a child from a fire, and I didn't need the heavy underlining of the soundtrack. But the flashbacks work, and they work because they're powered by Sonja's smile and anchored by periodic returns to present-day Ove. Lassgard plays him magnificently, alternately furious and haunted. His tentative steps back into life feel absolutely real.

I saw the movie in the fine theater of the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts, known to me and everyone as UICA. You can't; by the time this review is up, it will no longer be playing there. I encourage you to seek it out anyway. It's good. Besides, you'll need the practice with subtitles. "The Brand New Testament" comes to UICA in January, and it looks terrific. You'll want to see it.

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