Film Review: A Man Called Ove

Rolf LassgŒrd plays the title character in A Man Called Ove.
Rolf LassgaŒrd plays the title character in A Man Called Ove.

The Swedish film A Man Called Ove is one of the five entries competing for an Academy Award as Best Foreign Language Film. It’s also nominated for a Best Makeup and Hairstyling Oscar.

Ove is only 59, but he looks much older. That’s what crankiness will do to you! Ove is a stickler for rules; his main purpose in life seems to be upholding them. Even the possibility that a rule might soon be broken raises his ire.

Every morning, Ove Lindahl (Rolf Lassgård) does the “rounds” in his suburban neighbourhood, even though he is no longer the head of the residents’ association. Cars parked (or driven) where they shouldn’t be, errant bicycles, cigarette butts, tiny dogs piddling where they should not, these are just a few of the things that get his goat. Ove even takes his suicide rope back, to a Home-Depot type place, to complain that it was not “suitable for all uses.” The man has chutzpah!

Why suicide? Grief, boredom, or feeling useless and rejected? I choose “all of the above.” Ove’s wife Sonja died within the past year and he misses her very much. Every day he visits her grave to promise her that he will join her soon. He recently lost his longtime job with the railroad, too. (The dialogue in that scene should make human resources people everywhere cringe.) Arguing with the neighbours and store clerks is just not enough to keep a man going. But when decent, friendly Patrick (Tobias Almborg), his wife Parvaneh (Bahar Pars), and their two little girls move in next door, they do provide many new distractions.

Bahar Pars plays Parvaneh, the friendly, lively neighbour of Ove (Rolf LassgaŒrd).
Bahar Pars plays Parvaneh, the friendly, lively neighbour of Ove (Rolf LassgaŒrd).

A Man Called Ove is a crowd-pleasing tear jerker, with some jokes and pokes at smug, smirking bureaucrats. Some of those bureaucrats are just clueless, while others are truly evil.

Ove himself is not evil, he’s a sad, somewhat clumsy man, who has constructed a hard shell over his gooey centre. He’s a politically-correct crank – he does not hate gays, immigrants, or women, so he doesn’t have too far to go to redeem himself, as we know he eventually will. This is not one of those stories where a neo-Nazi sees the light and becomes a human-right lawyer. Too bad he’s so mean to retail clerks, though. As for his run-in with a clown. . . who really likes clowns, anyway?

The young adult Ove (Filip Berg) while socially inept in the extreme, wins the heart of school-teacher-to-be Sonja (Ida Engvoll). He is astounded by how many books she has when they move in together, but gamely sets to building more yet shelves when he realizes he did not make enough the first time. At first, we only see Sonja in relation to Ove, later we learn more about her life-changing goodness toward others. It might have been nice to see more of her, but the story IS A Man Called Ove, not a Woman Called Sonja.

When that same young adult Ove meets his neighbour Rune, it’s like finding another sort of love, as they run after the local rule-breakers with the joy of small children, or frolicking puppies.

Most people might guess the general direction the film will take and some might feel manipulated. While A Man Called Ove has its clichéd elements, I enjoyed it anyway, I’m not sorry I watched it; I don’t feel like I wasted my time. Be warned though: Reviews I read before seeing the film led me to expect a comedy about a cranky man. I was surprised by the many tragedies and injustices that were revealed in the flashbacks. While Ove’s life was not quite as bleak as that of the Biblical Job, he did suffer a lot, much more than I had expected, based on summaries and reviews I’d read before seeing the film.

Random info and musings: The film is based on Fredrik Backman’s  popular novel; it’s been translated into many languages.

Makeup artist transforms actor Rolf LassgŒrd into the balding cranky Ove. (Gala magazine photo)
Makeup artist transforms actor Rolf LassgaŒrd into the balding, cranky Ove. (Gala magazine photo)

Rolf Lassgård has played the detective Wallander on TV. In real life, he doesn’t look much like the worn-out Ove at all. Hence the nomination for a Best Makeup and Hairstyling Oscar.

Ida Engvoll, who plays Sonja, is slightly toothy. If she were a Hollywood star, would someone have suggested that she “fix” those teeth?  I wouldn’t be surprised.

Ove was so lucky to meet his wife, who accepted him as he was. Would an awkward woman be so lucky? I wonder. Don’t think I have see a film like that yet.

Ove’s estranged friend Rune reminded me of one of the guys from TV show Trailer Park Boys.

The blue in Ove’s workplace made me think of the blue of Montreal’s metro system.

The film opens in the plant department of a store that looks like the Home Depot on Beaubien St.

Feline trivia: According to web site imdb.com, the large fluffy cat in the film is portrayed by two Ragdolls, both from Poland. In an interview after a screening in Seattle, director Hannes Holm said one cat was sleepy while the other was quite aggressive. More than once, crew members brought the wrong cat onto the set, with painful consequences. Holm also said that a Hollywood film would probably opt for CGI cats, but Swedish filmmakers don’t have that kind of money. When told that the film Inside Llewyn Davis used six cats, he said he couldn’t have afforded so many. The entire production budget for A Man Called Ove was a mere $350,000! Quite amazing!

In Montreal, A Man Called Ove is playing at Cineplex Odeon Forum, Cinéma du Parc, and Cinéma Beaubien. One hour, 56 minutes long, In Swedish with English subtitles at Forum and Cinéma du Parc, French subtitles at Cinéma Beaubien.

A Man Called Ove, written and directed by Hannes Holm, with Rolf Lassgård, Filip Berg, Ida Engvoll, Bahar Pars, Tobias Almborg, Poyan Kamiri, Borje Lundberg, Stefan Gödicke

Mustang Review: Turkish sisters struggle to maintain their independence

 

The young women who play sisters in the film Mustang have a great rapport and are very believable as siblings. (Metropole Films)
The young women who play sisters in the film Mustang have a great rapport and are very believable as siblings. (Metropole Films)

Mustang opens at the end of the school year – as our main characters, five sisters, are saying goodbye to their friends and teachers. In their school uniform of white blouses, loosely knotted ties and a-line skirts they look like girls you might see right here on the streets of Montreal. They seem happy, self-confident and they have long, glorious hair. (The kind of hair I always wanted to have in high school. . .sigh. All the cool girls had long hair. They were great at field hockey, too.)

About that title, Mustang, which might make one think of a Western, it’s all about that hair. In the press kit, Director Deniz Gamze Ergüven says “A mustang is a wild horse that perfectly symbolizes my five spirited and untamable heroines. Visually, even, their hair is like a mane and, in the village, they’re like a herd of mustangs coming through. And the story moves fast, galloping forward, and that energy is at the heart of the picture, just like the mustang that gave it its name.”

Back to the story: It’s a beautiful day, so the sisters decide to walk home instead of taking the school bus. The story is set in a seaside village on the Black Sea, and their walk takes them by a beach. This leads to some playful frolicking in the water with their male friends. Oh, oh.

By the time they get home, their grandmother has already heard about this indiscretion and she pretty much accuses them of engaging in an orgy. (What will the neighbours think? What will they say?) She also beats them, starting with the oldest one first, and working her way down chronologically. As outraged as she is, things only get worse when her son, the girls’ uncle Erol (Ayberk Pekcan) comes home. (Their parents have been dead for years.)

The life the sisters had known is over now. Grandma (Nihal Koldas) gathers up their telephones, their computer, confiscates books, makeup, and any other thing that might have a pernicious influence, and locks all of it in a cupboard. The sisters are driven to a local clinic and made to suffer the indignity of virginity tests.

Their home becomes a “wife factory.” Neighbourhood women in headscarves come in to instruct them in sewing, stuffing a duvet, cooking (they even make chewing gum!) and advanced window cleaning. They must wear muddy-coloured, long-sleeved dresses. Sometimes when the family is just hanging out, we can hear speeches on the TV about how women ought to behave.

Before we know it, the two oldest girls, Sonay (Ilayda Akdogan) and Selma (Tugba Sunguroglu), are serving coffee and cookies to the neighbourhood women. It’s a sort of an audition, or presentation of the merchandise, really. A woman will offer a son as a groom, then bring her husband in, that very same day, to confirm the engagement, with rings and red ribbons. The wishes and opinions of the future partners don’t seem to matter. At least Sonay manages to get engaged to the guy she’s already been seeing on the sly. Selma is not so lucky; she’s paired off with a guy who looks just as unenthusiastic as she does.

Ilayda Akdogan plays Sonay in a wedding scene from the film Mustang. (Metropole Films)
Ilayda Akdogan plays Sonay in a wedding scene from the film Mustang. (Metropole Films)

There’s an interlude at a soccer game that might remind some viewers of Jafar Panahi’s film Offside. The youngest girl, Lale (Gunes Sensoy), is a big soccer fan, but her uncle won’t take her to matches or even let her watch them on TV with him when his pals come over. But, after some violent incidents, the authorities decide that a coming match will only be open to women and young children. All the sisters welcome this chance to escape the wife factory and they join their friends for a raucous bus ride and a joyful game. (Turkey really did have some women-and-children only games in 2011, with 41,000 fans attending.)

After this outing, the walls around the house are made higher still, a tall wrought-iron gate is installed and bars are placed on the windows. The place really feels like a prison, now. However, all this “security” will come in mighty handy for some of the sisters later.

To my shock and surprise, when school starts again, none of the girls are allowed to return. (The actress playing Lale was 13 in real life, but she looked younger than that to me. I’m not sure how old she was supposed to be in the story.) No one comes to find out why they aren’t in school.

Throughout the film Lale has been watching, without saying a lot, but it’s obvious that she’s in no hurry to become a housewife. She’s plotting to rescue herself and her remaining single-but-already-engaged sister and we get to be a part of it. She might be young, but she’s very resourceful and she’s already found a good ally on “the outside.” An ally, mind you, not a prince or a knight, because she is not a helpless girl.

While some parts of the film are upsetting, maddening, even tragic, the bond the sisters have is wonderful to behold. Viewers who don’t have any sisters might well wish that they did. The actresses are so comfortable together they are very believable as sisters. Outdoors, they do gallop like mustangs, but at home they might tumble around playfully, or cuddle up together, like a bunch of kittens.

Hundreds of teenagers auditioned for parts in the film. Elit Iscan (Ece) was only one with previous acting experience, though you wouldn’t know it. Director Deniz Gamze Ergüven first saw Tugba Sunguroglu (Selma) on an airplane flight.

Ergüven was born in Turkey but she’s based in France now. She often moved between France and Turkey, and also spent time in the U.S. and in South Africa, where she earned an M.A. in African History.

The film was shot in the Black Sea village of Inebolu. It is 600 km from Istanbul, though in the story the sisters are 1,000 km from the big city. For them, it probably seems as far away as the moon.

Mustang was written by Deniz Gamze Ergüven and Alice Winocour.

 

I really enjoyed the film’s sound track. Most of the tunes were composed by Australian musician Warren Ellis, of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Three tunes (or fragments of them) that Ellis recorded with Cave are in the film, though they are not on the Mustang sound track album. Those tunes are Home, Moving On, The Mother. Of the 12 tracks on the album ($9.99) 11 are by Warren Ellis, and one is from the Turkish band Baba Zula. (Here is a link to the Mustang soundtrack, at iTunes.) Coincidentally, Baba Zula played here in Montreal in October, 2015. Two other tunes, Yüksek Yüksek Tepeler (The Song of a Homesick Bride), performed by Selim Sesler, and Esrefoglu Hear My Words (Eyefoölu Al Haberi) performed by Ahmet (Dede) Yurt, are in the film, but not on the soundtrack. I think their tunes provided the lively dance music at a wedding reception. (Selim Sesler’s music is here, on iTunes; there’s a video of Ahmet Yurt on YouTube.

Mustang is a France-Turkey-Germany co-production For those who care about such things, Mustang is France’s entry for the foreign-language Oscar.

Mustang is in Turkish. In Montreal a version with English subtitles is being shown at Cinéma du Parc and Cineplex Forum. The version with French subtitles is being shown at Cinéma Beaubien, Cineplex Odeon Quartier Latin, and Méga Plex Pont Viau.