If you look up “curmudgeon” in a Swedish dictionary, you may well find a picture of Ove (Rolf Lassgård) from the book and now movie A Man Called Ove. It’s not that Ove is a general misanthrope; it’s just that he can’t stand “idiots” (especially the white shirt professional idiots). Unfortunately, it seems just about everyone around him fits that definition in his mind. He spends his day making sure all the rules of the neighborhood association are being followed and visiting his wife’s grave. Having lost his job, he is ready to join his wife.
But just as he tries to end his life, a new family of “idiots” moves next door. He just can’t stand to see them making a mess of things. As he tries to join his wife, each attempt at suicide ends in failure, usually because someone has done something he can’t leave alone. But with each attempt we begin to see in flashback a bit more of his story and come to understand him better.
In the flash back we see the wonderful love story with his wife Sonja (Ida Engvoll) when Ove was a young man (the young Ove is portrayed by Filip Berg). We learn that Ove has a passion for things that work well (and so a passion for Saab automobiles). He wants his world to have the same kind of precision as a well-made machine. It’s just that the “idiots” keep messing things up.
The story is wonderfully constructed as it moves back and forth between the current day and the past to show us just enough about Ove to help us better appreciate him. It isn’t really that Ove changes as the story progresses, it’s just that we learn to see beyond the external grumpiness to see someone we learn has a heart that’s too big.
Ove reminds us that it is easy to dismiss someone on first impressions. Not only when we first see Ove then slowly learn about him, but also the way Ove judges the “idiots”, yet often comes to discover value within the people he meets. He is indeed a loving and extremely loyal person. Even though we may at first think Ove must have had a hard life to produce someone as brusque and angry as he has become, we actually discover he has had a happy life—not without trials, but still happy and fulfilling. The crusty exterior is really just his way of trying to make the world a better place. And we understand that the world would have been diminished without him. How many others that we meet each day would we know that of if we took the time to understand them better?
A Man Called Ove is Sweden’s official Oscar entry for Best Foreign Language Film.
Photos courtesy of Music Box Films