Monday, 3 July 2017

Grumps: "A Man Called Ove"

A Man Called Ove follows on from 2013's The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of a Window... and 2014's The Grump in suggesting that our Scandinavian cousins have a fondness - some might say weakness - for sentimental, schematic diversions in which grouchy-to-misanthropic greyhairs have their assumptions challenged and horizons broadened by outside forces. The underlying idea may be that there is no stick-in-the-mud entrenched so deep that they can't be raised up by the bright shining lights of progressive liberalism - an honourable idea, certainly, though one that can't help but seem flimsily optimistic when viewed in conjunction with the scowling gargoyle faces in the audience on each week's Question Time, demanding to know when they're going to get their beloved Brexit. (Perhaps it's region-specific.) Here, we find Ralf Lassgard, Swedish television's original Wallander, assuming the role of creaky old puffin: his Ove is a widowed fusspot whose latest and possibly last hobby (attempting to join his wife in the grave) keeps being interrupted by his neighbours. That one neighbour is of Persian descent, and another is gay and unwanted by his actual father, tips us the wink as to which direction the film has been preset to head in; for one thing, it seems unlikely that Ove will end up petrolbombing anybody's house.

Pottering along in first gear for just shy of two hours, A Man Called Ove allows us plenty of time to admire what Eastwood did in Gran Torino in keeping his elderly protagonist as ambiguous and disagreeable for as long as he did. Writer-director Hannes Holm, adapting Fredrik Bachman's novel, starts excusing and explaining away Ove's tetchiness as early as ten minutes in with the first of several beigey period flashbacks: these have our guy pegged as a low-born dreamer forced into menial work after the sudden demise of his engineer father, and subsequently screwed over by the "whiteshirts" of high government, then by fate. The vague suggestion is that this ragbag of prejudices might be considered in some way a puzzle, but he's far too easily straightened out: it's not long before we find Ove tending to a kitten in his kitchen, reading bedtime stories to a pair of cute kids, and being surrounded by a gathering of women who might mitigate against his rough masculine edges.

Holm wrings a modicum of light black (grey?) comedy from Bachman's suicide motif. It's not quite Better Off Dead..., but it raises a chuckle when the officious Ove returns the length of rope he's just failed to hang himself with to the hardware store for a refund. And some of its points do come close to landing: it wouldn't surprise me if some members of the Silver Screen audience shared Ove's lament for industry lost (and the practical knowledge that has vanished with it), even though in this the film would seem as likely to confirm as challenge these viewers in their prejudices against a younger generation. That's finally the problem here: from genial first frame to last, A Man Called Ove does feel like a very soft option, shot and paced like Sunday afternoon telly, and composed entirely around a figure more done to than doing, who never particularly seems committed to his splutterings in the first place - which makes it even less surprising when he turns out to be a rather decent cove after all.

A Man Called Ove is now playing in selected cinemas.   

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