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Suicidal widower rediscovers joie de vivre in 'Ove'

Tirdad Derakhshani
The Philadelphia Inquirer (TNS)
  • Rolf Lassgard stars in "A Man Called Ove."
  • 3 stars out of 4

"Fate is the sum total of our own stupidity," declares the title character in "A Man Called Ove," a charming, warm-hearted Swedish dramedy about the redemptive power of neighborly love.
"My fate was altered by the stupidity of my neighbors."
A wonderfully misanthropic 59-year-old factory worker played by the incomparable Rolf Lassgård (Wallander), Ove has lost the will to live after his wife's death.
As we later learn in a series of well-crafted flashbacks, Ove was born in poverty and grew up in a loveless environment. His life took a radical turn when he met Sonja (played as a young woman by the radiant Ida Engvoll), who gave him direction and purpose.
So he decides to join her in the hereafter. He puts on his best suit and climbs a little stepladder, ready to take the plunge, a ridiculous-looking green-blue nylon rope noosed around his neck.
Thing is, Ove, who works part time as a kind of handyman-concierge on the idyllic suburban cul-de-sac where he lives, does have one overriding passion that outstrips his desire to die: to remind other people just how stupid they are.
As he's hanging there, his face cycling through every shade of beet-red and purple you can imagine, he sees out his window that his new neighbors are breaking the street's ban on car traffic.
This happens several days in a row — Ove slips on the noose, then sees another infraction that sets him off in a rage. Each day, he goes back to his wife's grave to apologize for being late.
Despite his disdain for them, Ove gets to know the new family. A vivacious Iranian Swedish woman named Parvaneh (Bahar Pars), her mellow husband, Patrick (Tobias Almborg) and their two little daughters make for an intensely tender, eminently easygoing unit.
Despite himself, he falls in love with their shared love.
"A Man Called Ove," which was adapted from Fredrik Backman's bestseller, has a familiar arc: Ove is drawn out of himself by Parvaneh's remarkable kindness and learns to embrace life again. It's skillfully made and unashamed to play on the viewer's emotions.
The film is most enjoyable and inventive during the flashbacks, which chronicle Ove's lifelong war with the White Shirts, his term for the countless, faceless bureaucrats who have made his life miserable at every turn.
He tells us of how Sonja saved him, of how they fought the system together, and of their transformative love.
I generally dislike sappy stories of this kind. The hero's misanthropy usually seems forced. But "A Man Called Ove" won me over — if for no other reason than Lassgård's formidable talent for playing such an utterly pitiless, nihilistic jerk.

3 out of 4 stars
Directed by Hannes Holm.
With Rolf Lassgård, Bahar Pars, Tobias Almborg, Ida Engvoll.
Distributed by Music Box Films.
In Swedish with English subtitles.
Running time: 1 hour, 56 mins.
Parent's guide: PG-13 (thematic content, some disturbing images, and profanity).

Rolf Lassgard in a scene from the movie "A Man Called Ove" directed by Hannes Holm. The movie opens Friday at Small Star Art House.