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Review: Swedish crank is surprised by life in tragicomic ‘A Man Called Ove’

‘A Man Called Ove’
Rolf Lassgård in the movie “A Man Called Ove.”
(Johan Bergmark / Music Box Films)

Like Bill Murray in “St. Vincent” and Jack Nicholson in “About Schmidt,” Rolf Lassgård’s title character in “A Man Called Ove” is a curmudgeonly retiree whose lonely life takes an unexpected turn.

It’s a time-honored template, but one that nevertheless still works magic with the right actor and carefully balanced tragicomic tone as demonstrated with this Swedish submission for best foreign-language Oscar consideration.

Put out to pasture after working 43 years for the same firm, Lassgård’s testy Ove occupies his days policing his neighbors and visiting the grave of his recently departed wife. 

Even in the throes of depression, this “nit-picking obstructionist,” as one character sums him up, still remains tethered to his prickly principles — he’s the kind of person who demands a refund for the rope that broke during one of his several suicide attempts.

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It takes the arrival of spirited new Persian neighbor (Bahar Pars) and her young family to gradually pull Ove out of his funk, and although the plot, taken from the bestselling novel by Fredrik Backman, adheres to a familiar path, it’s nonetheless affecting.

Incorporating fluid flashbacks and snippets of narration that refreshingly serve to enhance rather than distract, director-writer Hannes Holm maintains a gentle, lyrical flow while coaxing fine performances from a diverse cast.

Thanks to his richly inhabited performance, Lassgård makes it easy to see how even a crank who stubbornly contends that “fate is the sum total of our own stupidity” is permitted an unanticipated change of plan.

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‘A Man Called Ove’

MPAA rating: PG-13, for thematic content, some disturbing images, and language

In Swedish and Persian with English subtitles 

Running time: 1 hour, 56 minutes

Playing: Laemmle’s Royal, West L.A.

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