A Man Called Ove (Movie) written by Hannes Holm (screenplay) and Fredrick Backman (novel); directed by Hannes
Holm; starring Rolph Lassgård, Bahar Pars, Filip Berg, Ida Engvoll, Börje Lundberg, Viktor Baagøe, Stefan Gödicke
This is one of those movies that raises an important question, not for the characters on the screen, but for the one watching
in his seat: will I cut my losses and go home, or will I endure to the bitter end?
My staying, in this case, was a matter of sheer curiosity: could there possibly be anything worthwhile about
We start with Ove (Rolph Lassgård), a Swedish widower, who’s just been fired
from his lifelong job in a factory or a plant of some kind. That setback, contrary to what you might think, does not cause
a downturn in Ove’s character. That’s because we’ve discovered, in the first ten minutes of the movie, that
Ove is already as ornery as any person could be. One thing is presumably meant to make us like him: he takes flowers to his
wife's grave and talks to her. For me, that wasn't enough to redeem the curmudgeon in him. The sulk on Mr.Lassgård’s face wore out its welcome in the first few scenes. He did eventually show that, as an actor,
he was capable of other facial expressions but, for most of the movie, his acting was about as interesting as a squeaky door.
When you open a movie with such a curmudgeonly misanthropist, you know there’s only one way for things to go. And,
without giving away too much plot, I can assure you that this one goes there with a vengeance. Every problem, from small to
large, that has cropped up in terms of Ove’s warped social development – and there are lots of them – is
solved beautifully and tied up in a bow.
And how does that happen? Because people are so nice to Ove, of course! But why they are, I do not know. A young Iranian
mother (Bahar Pars) who moves in next door to Ove with her husband and two kids, is particularly – one might say relentlessly
– sweet to Ove. Has she taken on Ove as a Lenten penance? (Do Iranian women observe Lent?) Never mind, her kindness
accomplishes exactly what the saccharine script intends it to.
I do not, in principle, have any objection to a heart-warming movie that shows us that human beings can be kind to one
another. However, I would like that to be shown in a way that is not trite, predictable or completely out of synch with reality.
The only thing, then, that kept me watching this was that we got some interesting flashbacks to Ove’s childhood
and youth. The actor who played Ove as a young man (Filip Berg) turned out to be as fascinating as Rolph Lassgård was not. A gangly, tongue-tied beanpole, the younger Ove was completely flummoxed by the advances of
a beguiling – if far too upbeat – female (Ida Engvoll) who had her sights set on him. He had shown himself capable
of heroic, selfless action but, on taking a woman out for a romantic dinner, all he could think of to talk about was the internal
working of automobiles.
Entertaining as it was to watch this man’s fumbling attempts at becoming a husband and a father, the script wanted
us to believe that multiple tragedies had turned him into the ogre that was the senior Ove. Even if you’re an addict
for melodrama, I don’t see how you can accept that a fine, admirable man could become such a creep. And what’s
with the senior Ove's five or six suicide attempts? (I lost count.) We know they’re not going to succeed;
otherwise, there’d be no movie. So why are the filmmakers wasting my time with this tiresome shtick?
The one joke running through the piece – the male assessment of another person’s worth on the basis of whether
he drives a Saab or a Volvo – did provide some slight amusement. Apart from that, and the character played by Filip
Berg, I’m at a loss to see what people like so much about this movie. Unless they’re finding some satisfaction
– in addition to Mr. Berg – in the realistic cameos by several people and in the accurate depiction of the nitty-gritty
of their lives. But any such appreciation was ruined for me by the music that was ponderously Mahlerian when it wasn’t
insufferably sprightly, much like Felix Mendelssohn’s overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Apparently,
the echoes of those giants were meant to make us feel we were experiencing a great work of art. Too ironic for words!
Chevalier (DVD) written by Efthymis Filippou and Athina Rachel Tsangari; directed by Athina Rachel Tsangari; starring
Yiorgos Kendros, Panos Koronis, Vangelis Mourikis, Makis Papadimitriou, Yorgos Pirpassapoulos, Sakis Rouvas
The hype around this movie hails it as a comedy on the competitiveness of men. If there’s any humour in it, however,
it’s too dry for me.
That could be partly due to my having to read the subtitled translations of the dialogue. Maybe if you had an ear for Greek,
you could pick up more of the flavour of the piece. Perhaps a familiarity with the language would also help a person to understand
what’s going on. Otherwise, a viewer is left in a fog much of the time.
What’s clear from the outset is that we’re with a group of six or eight men on a yacht of some kind. But what
is the point of this voyage? And where are we? There are references to Athens, which seems to be home to some of the men.
At times, we seem to be far from land on the open sea; at other times, there are glimpses of city life. Although I don’t
generally love road stories – and by extension, I guess, voyage stories – you can usually count on them to tell
you where you’re headed. Not so in this case. We have no idea where we’re headed, if anywhere, or why.
And whose yacht is this? We keep hearing announcements over the loud speakers about procedural and navigational matters.
Who’s making those announcements? Are there crew members behind the scenes whom we never see? Eventually, we surmise
that maybe this is a chartered boat and that these men are on a holiday. But an older man (Yiorgos Kondros) who turns out
to be a doctor acts as if he may be the host. Is he, in fact? Is he rich enough to stand everybody to such a holiday? One
man appears to be his son, another his son-in-law. What’s the connection with the others? Two men, who at first appear
to be included in his group of friends, turn out to be working in the boat’s kitchen. Ah, so there is a crew!
And why would any of this matter? Because most of us find character development, and the inter-action of characters we
have come to know, as some of the most satisfying rewards of film, theatre and books. It’s rather hard to get any such
reward from a movie when you barely know who any of the characters are. The problem is exacerbated by casting that includes
actors who look so much alike: lean, swarthy, saturnine. Only one character stands out as an individual: a young man who appears
to be somewhat timid and perhaps a little less aggressive than the others (Makis Papadimitriou, I think). Which, of course,
is why he’s memorable.
As for the putative theme of the movie – the male competitiveness – we see the men assigning scores to each
other for things like skills, truthfulness, strength, and blood counts (with the doctor’s help, obviously). At one point,
somebody’s talking to his wife, who’s on the screen of his smart phone, and then we see that everybody else is
sitting back, ready to score him – and all the others who are waiting to undertake a similar call – on the subject
of rapport with one’s spouse.
So, yes, we can say that the movie does show, eventually, that men are competitive. But it’s hard to get the message
because we’re too busy trying to follow the inexplicable shifts from scene to scene. There’s a sly knowingness
to the movie. There’s no narrative to help you. You have to be in on the joke. The movie strikes me, yet again,
as one of these recent works where the artists don’t bother with coherent story-telling. You’re supposed to have
read up on the movie beforehand. It's aimed at the sophisticated movie-goer who devours all the hype, not an ordinary person
who arrives at a theatre hoping that a movie will offer something that’s self-explanatory.
All the Way (DVD) written by Robert Schenkkan; directed by Jay Roach; starring Bryan Cranston, Anthony Mackie,
Melissa Leo, Frank Langella, Bradley Whitford
This made-for-tv movie vividly recreates the turbulence of the first years of Lyndon Johnson’s tenure in the White
House. Three major problems facing him constitute the major issues in the movie: the passing of the civil rights bill, the
murder of three social justice workers in Mississippi, and the controversy over whether or not to allow black representatives
to vote in the Democrats' convention for the nomination of the party’s candidate for the presidency.
That last issue, perhaps more than the others, shows just how tumultuous those times were. It comes as a shock to be reminded
that, as recently as the early 1960s, there could have been any question as to whether black party members would be officially
recognized. Through all the negotiations and scheming, LBJ is shown to be every bit the schmoozer, finagler, contriver and
fighter – i.e. consummate politician – that he has come to be known as. He could lie, put up a front, pull strings,
talk out of the side of his mouth, make iffy promises, do anything that it took to get results. But dammit, the guy could
get things done! And history would seem to show that, for the most part, regardless of his tactics, his heart was in the right
place. And that wasn’t just a late-in-life conversion. Some people – like me – might be surprised to learn
that, in his first job, as a teacher in a rural elementary school, he was fighting for a better life for impoverished black
Bryan Cranston, with the help of some facial prosthetics, looks enough like LBJ that you don’t feel any misalignment
that would interfere with your belief in the guy. Mr. Cranston captures all the crafty, wily energy, the bonhomie, the bad
temper, the intelligence, the crude humour. Due to certain physical realities, though, he can’t quite convey the enormity
of LBJ, the dominance of his presence, the weight of him, to put it bluntly. However, he comes close enough in all other respects
to make us feel we’re getting a true picture of LBJ.
Among the other actors, I particularly admired Bradley Whitford, as Hubert Humphrey, the long-suffering vice presidential
candidate, whose quiet dignity – and more importantly his loyalty – are never undermined by the considerable harassment
from his boss. Melissa Leo, in a small role, has some good moments as Lady Bird Johnson, especially one scene where she’s
allowed to show the private pain that comes with being the big man’s wife. Frank Langella, in the role of Senator Richard
Russell, provides a sobering note as the elder statesman who worries that LBJ is behaving reckessly in his push forward on
the civil rights bill. The only actor who disappoints is Anthony Mackie as Martin Luther King, Jr. Mind you, it’s probably
a thankless task to try to reincarnate a legend. Mr. Mackie has the nobility, the serious purpose of Mr. King, but he’s
completely lacking in charisma. If you don’t have that, what do you have? An admirable person, but a dull fellow who
doesn’t spark the electric response that the real man did.
While the movie rushes forward at breakneck speed, creating a convincing picture of the excitement of that era, a few flaws
perhaps reveal its made-for-tv nature. I’m thinking mostly of crowded scenes where people are responding to something.
Instead of the actors seeming to move in independent, spontaneous ways, you get everybody acting all at once, as if on cue.
The movie doesn’t seem to have benefitted from the meticulous directing that takes time to make those incidents more
realistic. And I found some of the discussion meetings – particularly the ones among the black strategists – a
bit stagey and stilted.
Because of recent political developments in the US, the movie casts a rather ominous shadow that probably wasn’t
part of the filmmakers’ intentions. The message that comes through most strongly is that, no matter how noble your goals, politics
is all about winning and doing whatever it takes to be the victor. Ruthless ambition seems to be the main thing. Even more
scarifying is the revelation that, in the Johnson years, business in the White House was pretty much helter-skelter. Policy
was made on the fly. While pontificating to his aides on some crucial issue, LBJ walks into the bathroom, pulls down his pants,
sits down on the toilet and keeps spewing directives without missing a beat. If things could be so chaotic in an administration
that performed well on the whole, one shudders to think what might be going on in the White House now.