Films are made by artists and tend to be reflective of an artistic perspective on the subject matter, which often limits the subject matters to topics pertaining to art, it’s creation, or a classically profound experience. Japanese artist Tatsuo Miyajima has discussed the concept of “Art in you”, pertaining to the art being a reflection of what the work inspires in the viewer, and promotes an understanding of art as a dynamic dialogue rather than a static piece. Swedish director Hannes Holm, has explored this idea, intentionally or otherwise, in his new work A Man Called Ove, based off Fredrik Backman’s novel of the same name, Sweden’s nomination for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film.
A Man Called Ove has a self explanatory title, and Ove himself is perhaps the least classically artistically inspiring character you could think of. He is infuriatingly pragmatic, rigorous and exacting without ever veering into obsessive, and proud without being magnanimous. He is, before all other things, a simple man. Ove is played by Swedish actor Rolf Lassgård, who gives a remarkably humble and respectful performance. The film, and his performance, both serve as an offering and appreciation of the great beauty of the simple life. Ove has never been an extraordinary individual, nor has he ever wished to be, but through the course of the film, and a series of flashbacks, we learn how extraordinary his life has been.
We meet Ove late into his 50s, where he is being retired from his old job of 43 years. We learn that his wife has recently passed, and next thing you know Ove has decided the logical next step in his life is that of suicide. He has two or three suicide attempts, each comically interrupted by unwitting neighbours, who he consistently refers to as “idiots”. Each failed attempt does not immediately rekindle in him an urge to life, rather it reminds him of the necessity of survival. Each day he lives he gains new responsibilities, and realises that he has to deal with those before he will be able to end his life in clear mind. We later learn he is set on suicide in order to follow and be with his wife, and not out of some deep seated depression he has clung to throughout his life.
Holm’s film is reminiscent of Jim Jarmusch’s recent Paterson, one of my favourite films of 2016, in its recognition of the poetry of the everyday. Ove is never particularly articulate or verbose, but he is rarely without profundity and wisdom. He remarks wistfully to his wife’s tombstone, “it’s not as easy to kill oneself as one thinks”, and all his dialogue seems to either concern the finicky banality of everyday tasks or the greater scope of life and its meaning, which serves to elevate the everyday qualities of the film to meaningful heights.
Holm never goes out of his way to create anything too conceived or obviously constructed, he just pits Ove’s stubborn attitudes against the warmth and kindness of his new neighbours and lets their lives flow into each other. Ove develops a strong bond with the lady of the house Parvaneh (Bahar Pars, luminous) and her children, and becomes something of a father (or rude uncle) figure to the household. People in Ove’s life seem to orbit him at varying distances, never coming quite too close, but never letting him drift too far away. The final gesture of his is not one of remarkable grandiosity, or something that anyone would have difficulty believing in real life, however it is significant and powerful in the context of the story, and serves as great a purpose as any hero gesture in films about more remarkable characters.
The flashback scenes are powerful, with the chemistry between young Ove (Filip Berg) and wife Sonja (Ida Engvoll) existing in a universal place beneath their dialogue and between their eyes, they never flirt, but they are never not in love. The flashback scenes also tie in to the contemporary scenes with subtle imagery and references that are always apparent but never feel too forced or strained. Ove’s fixation on cars, and particularly Saabs, is both a whimsically beautiful reference to his early childhood with his father, and an effective comic device in multiple parts of the film
Hannes Holm’s A Man Called Ove is a poetic and beautiful love letter to the simple people of the world who want nothing more than a good car, a sturdy house, and meat and potatoes. Their lives, too, are ones of beauty.