“A Man Called Ove” is a crisp, pleasing film adaptation of Fredrik Backman’s best-seller out of Sweden. You’d probably guess the locale simply by the nature of a key grudge held by the abrasive title character: His only longstanding male friendship nearly comes to ruin over a dispute regarding which is the better car, a Saab or a Volvo.
Ove isplayed with canny gradations of disdain and warmth by the wonderfully granite-faced Rolf Lassgard, qualifies as his homeland’s premier Grumpy Old Swede. At age 59, this scowling, muttering character gets bounced from his factory job, leaving his days as a widower to be filled by making the security rounds at his housing complex. The only color in his life comes from his late wife’s bright jackets, hanging near the front door.
The picture is a smooth, methodical black comedy. The story, streamlined by adapter and director Hannes Holm, introduces Ove by way of several unsuccessful suicide attempts. One such attempt is derailed by the introduction of his new neighbors, a boisterous family of four whose pregnant Iranian refugee matriarch, Parvaneh, is played by the very fine Bahar Pars.
In extended flashbacks, Holm lays in Ove’s storyhistory of Ove and how he got this way. Author Backman owes a little something to Charles Dickens; Ove’s emotionally closed off at an early age, too soon left without parents, and when he meets his heart’s desire (Ida Engvoll, luminous as Sonja) he begins to see life’s possibilities.
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Ove is no stranger to tragedy, and as the present-day scenes progress through Ove’s gradual recognition of the people around him, the movie (like its source material) becomes an engaging push/pull of emotions. Lassgard isn’t the whole show, but he’s most of it, and he’s rock-steady without being predictable, or falling into easy caricature, even when the movie veers that way. There’s stubborn dignity in this crab’s defense mechanisms. But when he learns to live without them, be warned: hearts will warm, and tears may fall.
Sweet and flinty in roughly equal measure, the movie’s a big hit in its native country, and it’s Sweden’s official entry for the upcoming foreign language Academy Award nominations.
‘A Man Called Ove’
Rated PG-13 for thematic content, some disturbing images, and language. 1:56. Kentucky.