Last year, a grumpy old Swedish guy was more appealing than George Clooney (see here). This year, a grumpy old Swedish guy is more appealing than Tom Hanks.
A Man Called Ove
Directed by Hannes Holm
At 59, but looking older, Ove is a curmudgeon. He lives alone, mourning his deceased wife, and patrolling his neatly planned housing community where he has previously been the president of the homeowners association. Each day he walks the same route, checking the same signs and gates, and writing warning for those who have offended in some way. In almost all of these scenes, you might be excused for expecting him to yell “GET OFF MY LAWN!”
At the start of the film, he’s still going to work, at the same industrial job he’s held since he was 16. His young bosses seem terrified at the prospect of suggesting he retire until he does exactly that, on the spot, to their great surprise. This frees him up to do what he most wants, which is to commit suicide and join his wife.
“A Man Called Ove” is a dark comedy of significant depth. We get to know Ove through the involvement of his new neighbor – a well-meaning woman who has the misfortune of immediately breaking his cardinal rule by having the family car on the traffic-free walkway between the houses. She and others also interrupt several clumsy suicide attempts, which in turn lead Ove to apologize to his dead wife, on a daily basis for not having died yet.
There are moments in the film when it feels a little like somebody decided to remake “Gran Torino” as a comedy. I was also reminded of last year’s delightful, and also Swedish, “The 100 Year Old-Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared.” That film had some of the most effective extreme aging makeup for which it was Oscar nominated. By comparison, in “A Man Called Ove,” the actor and character are of a similar age but the hair and makeup work takes a robust, strong man (Rolf Lassgård who has played TV cops such as Kurt Wallander, prior to the Kenneth Branagh English language remakes found on Netflix) and makes him look genuinely old before his time. And both films have interesting approaches to both death and flashbacks.
Lassgård is strong in the lead role, or at least in most of the lead role. If the film has a weakness, it’s in those flashback sequences where Ove is played as a boy and as a young man by two other actors. Both are good but there’s too much of an age progression jump between the younger and older adult versions of Ove. This is highlighted during an amusing flashback sequence that features the rivalry between Ove and his friend as depicted in their choice of Saab versus Volvo cars (the Swedish equivalent of a Ford versus Chevrolet argument). At one point, the car changes and so does the actor, with the car jumping a few years forward as the character seems to jump decades.
But, really, that’s a small issue in what’s otherwise a wonderful film. “A Man Called Ove” is playing in the Sacramento area, exclusively at the Tower Theatre, and it’s not just the best Swedish film about life and death I’ve seen this week, it’s also one of the most enjoyable films of any genre I’ve seen this year.
Far less enjoyable is the latest in the series of films based on Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon character (“The Da Vinci Code,” “Angels & Demons”). In “Inferno,” Tom Hanks (who was better recently hosting Saturday Night Live) has less hair but the film also has less appeal. Langdon Jason Bournes his way through a convenient case of amnesia, as he’s dragged into the middle of a plot to kill half the world’s population. That isn’t much of a spoiler as the film spoils itself in that regard from the very opening scenes, leaving little for the audience to do other than watch Langdon et al figure out the location of a single device. Which is also a problem as the treasure trail approach is more mundane here than previously. And at what point do you stop listening to the guy who sends you to the wrong city or stop caring about a plot that’s casually flipped upside down halfway through? The Guardian, keeping with the Dante theme, described “Inferno” as the 10th circle of hell. That’s a tad harsh but, with that in mind, it may be a film that’s less entertaining than its reviews.