Swedish exports are at an all-time high. Some of the most lucrative exports are bleak murder mysteries, but thanks to writers like Jonas Jonasson and Fredrik Backman there’s an entire market for quirky tales about curmudgeonly pensioners. Yet where Jonasson’s The 100 Year-Old Man Who Jumped Out the Window and Disappeared was full of whimsy, Scandinavian biker gangs and the age-old quest for a suitcase full of money, Backman’s A Man Called Ove – and Hannes Holm’s film adaptation – is much more depressing fare. Its absurdist tone lends the story a humorous facade, but it can’t hide the fact we are essentially watching a heartbroken man attempt suicide for an hour and a half.

Ove (Rolf Lassgård) seems like your typical neighborhood watchman, over-policing the back road where cars are prohibited and keeping exhaustive tabs on who has borrowed what from neighbors. The arrival of Parvaneh (Bahar Pars) and her family – announced by knocking over Ove’s mailbox with their car – begs knowing eye rolls. Without a doubt, Parvaneh and her daughters will be the ones to pull this sullen old man out of his slump. But no one becomes a grump without good reason. Ove’s hardened exterior is the direct result of the recent death of his saintly wife Sonja’s (Ida Engvoll). And during his daily visits to the cemetery, Ove promises he will join her soon.

The central structure of the film uses Ove’s suicide attempts to embark on flashbacks to pivotal events in his life. Keeping with the dreary subject matter, most of these revolve around death. From early childhood, Ove’s life is riddled with it. We never see his mother, but he grows up learning all about the train yard from his father. And in true Scandinavian filmic irony, the day young Ove (Filip Berg) passes his examination to become foreman of the yard is the some on which his father is unceremoniously hit and killed by a train. When he meets a beautiful teacher – Sonja – on the train and doesn’t get her name, the misfortune seems to match Ove’s poor luck to this point. But he does find her again, and they get married and go on a trip to Spain just before Sonja is expected to have their first child. Naturally, disaster strikes again.

The sheer number of deadly misfortunes that befall Ove throughout his life makes for some depressing and exhausting viewing. And, in the film’s very structure, it has us expecting yet another in a series of failed suicide attempts that provides the chance to learn more about Ove’s past. Morally disturbing doesn’t begin to describe this kind of viewing experience. And while it’s clear there is meant to be some black humor in the fact that Ove’s suicide attempts are constantly interrupted – either by uninvited neighbors or, more frequently, by neighbors who need to be reminded of the rules – it’s just as clear that Ove’s reason for wanting to die is deeper than simply thinking he has nothing more to live for. Although Sonja makes a limited number of appearances in flashbacks, Ove’s love for her is palpable.

Aside from the suicide gimmick, there’s very little to set Backman’s novel apart from the curmudgeon-meets-young-neighbors trope and the message that being needed gives life purpose. Given that to work with, Holm’s film does its best to believably prolong the inevitable. The clichés in the story extend to the predictable manner in which the story is told, especially in the obnoxious music swells that accompany significant moments. And as if the film weren’t already packed with more than enough trite clichés, the final five minutes manage to include a birth, a medical scare (turns out, Ove’s heart is “too big”) and a peaceful death. Like the rest of the film, it’s all very emotionally manipulative. It’s just a question of whether or not you want to indulge in the film’s saccharine message of finding happiness in family, adoptive or otherwise.

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