Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Misanthropy, Swedish style

Swedish director Hannes Holm’s A Man Called Ove (opening Friday at the Main Art Theatre) and based on a Swedish and international bestseller by Fredrik Backman, is a take on a kind of everyman and a type we’ve all run into. He’s the perfectionist, the pedant, the nitpicker, the policeman – or as often called these days the “Nazi” – enforcing society’s often unobserved rules and admonishing people for their misbehaviour. In his view, there’s a right way to do things and a wrong way. When you park your car you park between the lines. You never show up late for an appointment. You drive at exactly the speed limit. You don’t throw down a cigarette butt. In this story our protagonist is also grouchy and he’s old – 59. And Ove (Rolf Lassgård), confident to a fault, really has no use for other people. “Idiots!” he calls them time and again. His only love is for his deceased wife, Sonja (Ida Engvoll), whom we meet through flashbacks of their lives. Ove’s misanthropy is akin to his death wish. But every time he makes an effort to kill himself it goes – comically - awry. A new neighbor, Parvaneh (Bahar Pars) from Iran moves in across the street. This doesn’t thrill Ove, who’s a kind of Swedish Archie Bunker, and he turns up his nose at the offer of Iranian food. But Parvaneh, tough in own way, breaks through to Ove. And we learn about his life. Despite an austere exterior - partly induced by a similarly unemotional father, no mother, and a tragic childhood incident – we find out layers beyond the surface. (How often can we say this about other people we meet – about everyone in fact?) Suffering what appears a heart attack Ove is taken to hospital and the doctor tells Parvaneh, “You could say his heart is too big,” to which she breaks out in gales of laughter. Lassgård is one of Sweden’s most accomplished actors and puts in a fine performance as a gruff son-of-a-bitch who fights against showing any emotional warmth and indeed much humanity at all. Engvoll, as his wife, is oppositely engaging, depicting well a charming and caring woman who works magic with other people. Other performances, such as that of Parvaneh, are solid. The movie’s problem is in some of the script, also written by Holm. For someone as technically skilled as Ove his attempts at killing himself aren’t particularly competent. And there seemed a disconnect between the taciturn young Ove (Filip Berg, whose eyes are remarkably like the older version of the man) and his attraction to a well-rounded uplifting Sonja. And sometimes I thought the character’s one dimensionality went a little too far. Like the fact he parted ways, for years, with his best friend and neighbor, Rune (Börje Lundberg), over their choice of cars. But the film is ultimately heartwarming and might make you think twice before coming to quick conclusions about other people, especially ones you don't like.

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