Nothing bothers me more than the complaint “the book was better”. Books and movies cannot truly be compared as they are two different mediums. However, any time a book is translated to the silver screen, there is something extremely satisfying when the film perfectly adapts the written text. In an almost flawless adaptation of the brilliant novel, A MAN CALLED OVE comes very close to achieving such a feat. Having said that, it is hard for me to determine whether or not the film is really as wonderful as I imagine or if I am biased because of the love I have for the novel?
In present day Sweden, we meet Ove, a grumpy curmudgeon who wants nothing more than to be with his wife, Sonja, who passed away from cancer six months prior. When forced into early retirement from a job he’s held for 43 years, Ove puts plans in motion to end his life. Unfortunately for Ove, each of his attempts to die is foiled by a series of interruptions from new neighbors to the materials not functioning properly. Ove works through his desire in joining Sonja as soon as possible despite being drawn into a family comprised of neighbors and old frenemies. Learning Ove’s story though a series of well-incorporated flashbacks one cannot help but love the old sourpuss who is set in his ways.
Doing a wonderful job portraying the surly, unsociable current-day Ove, Rolf Lassgård carefully gives us his take on the grouch. Easily, this role could have been over-acted, creating a caricature instead of a character with a sharp tongue who’s weighed down with sadness. Filip Berg as young-man Ove is supremely endearing. While he is silent the majority of the time on screen, performing with a narration over his movements, Berg’s lanky willowy frame adds to the ‘bless his heart’ sensation.
Ida Engvoll as the beloved Sonja and Bahar Pars as the nosy, good-natured neighbor, Parvaneh, add a much needed brightness to counter gruff Ove. An element that I was pleased to see was the chemistry between Engvoll and Berg/Pars and Lassgård. There is a sweetness between Engvoll and Berg that adds to their tenderhearted and tragic tale. Giving as much as she gets, Pars and Lassgård have some great moments together.
The thing that makes this picture an ALMOST flawless adaptation is the pacing at the end of the film seems rushed and haphazardly thrown together. The details that made the first part of the movie make me so happy as the sensation of the book comes to life, were missing in action. Would someone who has yet to read the brilliant novel fill in the gaps that are missing from Ove’s late in life transformation? Was I just filling in the missing details because I had read the book and knew what was supposed to happen? There is a particularly heart-warming moment when the neighbors band together with the help of a reporter to stop an injustice. But what works beautifully in the book comes across as cheesy and pieced together in the film.
A MAN CALLED OVE is an easy film to recommend, despite the dark nature of Ove’s ultimate desire. As you’ll be reading the subtitles of the film anyway, might as well read the novel and let me know your comparison. Ove might be a grump, but he’s a lovable one.