Sunday, November 22, 2020

Why Watch Foreign Films: A Man Called Ove

This was a Netflix DVD viewing. Back when I was still on Facebook, this was suggested as a good foreign film for my project. Having read another book the same author Fredrik Backman had done, I actually have this novel on a list somewhere as a to-be-read and recognized the title. I was a bit annoyed with at first, to be honest. How many stories are there already about crabby old white men, and do we really need another one? The early half of this film was very sour, very depressing (if you do end up watching, TW: suicide[s]), and overall didn't do much to engage me other than to remind me of a very similar crabby old dude, Norwegian not Swedish, who used to come into the Blockbuster Video I worked at in Uptown apparently just to leave his car directly in the through area of the parking lot and to yell at everyone. However. The film definitely shifted in mood and depth once Ove's younger years were explained, and I ended up in a puddle of tears by the end of it. 

A Man Called Ove
, 2015
. d. Hannes Holm

Written by Hannes Holm (screenplay) and Fredrik Backman (novel)

Starring: Rolf LassgÃ¥rd, Bahar Pars, Filip Berg

Summary: Ove, an ill-tempered, isolated retiree who spends his days enforcing block association rules and visiting his wife's grave, has finally given up on life just as an unlikely friendship develops with his boisterous new neighbors. (via IMDB)

Like I said, we've all experienced stories of crabby old people being crabby, having crabby interactions with other people who just sort of tolerate the crabby person's crabbiness as some sort of endearing quirk, and honestly, I do feel like it's overdone (see: All Clint Eastwood). The bigger picture here of course is that many people also live lives that have been ripe with disappointment and loss, and that while we (as viewers) may not agree with someone's constant crabbiness and mistreatment of others, we are able to understand that disappointment and loss will shape someone's worldview and learn not to judge so quickly. Hand-in-hand with this, we also see the negative effects of isolationism, learning that while we may never be able to stop the disappointment and loss that is inevitable in the human experience, we can embrace togetherness through relationships in order to help each other through these events. 

Shorter reaction: Ove (Rolf Lassgard) is unpleasant and treats people badly, but we eventually forgive him for this once we understand him better. Our getting to empathize with him coincides with Ove's own gradual thawing through his relationship with his neighbor, Parvaneh (Bahar Pars). 

The story itself isn't necessarily rooted in Swedish culture, it could well have taken place anywhere, really, but there are little bits of time and place that do stick out, adding to the viewing experience. The Swedish countryside is beautiful, shown several times during young Ove's car trips with his father, and the obsession over Saabs (NOT VOLVOS) is relatable for car folks, I'm guessing. The time and place makes a big difference when considering Ove's wife Sonja (Ida Engvoll), and her experiences as a special education teacher. There weren't any ramps for those who needed them and it was difficult for children to get their needs met before medicine and education recognized what those needs really were. It's good to see attention brought to the struggles of people who are disabled, just as it's good to see some visibility on immigration and homosexuality (despite his many other issues with people in his residence community, Ove praises Parvaneh for her strength and resiliency in having fled her native country and provides shelter for a young gay man whose father has kicked him out). It seems Ove's heart is good, he just would rather not show anyone. 

It's a wholesome, emotional story, perfect for a quarantined Thanksgiving. Give it a try.