NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Friday, July 13th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It, Megan Basham reviews a Swedish movie nominated in 2016 for Best Foreign Film. A Man Called Ove is based on the best-selling book with themes of love and redemption. Note: the film is subtitled.
MEGAN BASHAM: You wouldn’t expect one of the most charming, heart-warming films in recent memory to center on a man repeatedly trying to commit suicide. You also wouldn’t expect one of the loveliest portraits of the Christian virtue of hospitality to come out of one of the world’s most secular countries. And yet, 2016’s Swedish film, A Man Called Ove, is all these things.
Ove is a thoroughly unlikeable old coot.
AUDIO: Ove! Ove! Ove!
A menace to his neighbors, he’s the sort of man for whom the term “bean-counter” was invented. When he’s not leaving his neighbors nasty notes for minor HOA infractions, he’s berating them with a range of profanity-laced insults (which accounts for the PG-13 rating).
Everyone is an “idiot” according to Ove.
Rather than suffer the slings and arrows of his idiotic neighbors any further, Ove decides to join his beloved wife in the afterlife. With each failed attempt to kill himself (the idiots interfering again), we get to know a little more about Ove in flashback. We learn he’s also a man who will endure any inconvenience for someone he loves. His problem is he doesn’t love enough people. The rest of the film sets about rectifying this—gently, joyfully illustrating that a meaningful life is one lived in deep community with others.
Again and again the needs of Ove’s neighbors prod him out of his comfortable nest of despair. First it’s an Iranian immigrant who wants to learn to drive. Then it’s a paraplegic with a broken heater. Later, it’s a teen who’s been kicked out of his house for announcing he’s gay.
I read a review by another Christian critic that cited this last as a negative. I understand that reasoning, but for discerning adult viewers, I’d challenge it. Unlike so many other movies, A Man Called Ove doesn’t celebrate the teen’s revelation. We never know whether Ove approves or disapproves. All we know is that despite how utterly different they are, Ove opens his home to the boy.
As Rosario Butterfield says in her book, The Gospel Comes with a House Key, Christ-like hospitality recoils from reducing a human being to a label. And it summons those who don’t yet know the Lord into fellowship. In this respect, I’d suggest the film offers a model for redeemed behavior—rather than something we need to avert our eyes from.
If there’s a villain here, it’s a group Ove calls the “white shirts”—nameless bureaucrats who continually wreak havoc with their disinterested authoritarianism. When a government worker ominously tells the wife of the paraplegic “a decision has been made” to take her husband away to make her life easier, she asks, “What kind of love would that be, to part when you need one another the most?” The scene further echoes recent headlines when the bureaucrat wrongly, but with complete administerial arrogance, insists her husband isn’t aware of his surroundings. It could be a coincidence, but given Sweden’s reputation as the least religious nation in the Western world, it’s surprising how often churches and images that subtly allude to Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam pop up.
I know there are plenty of people for whom a subtitled film feels like work, so I don’t recommend them unless they’re so good that they make you forget after a few minutes that you’re watching a foreign film. A Man Called Ove is one of those. In fact, it’s so good, Tom Hanks bought the rights to produce and star in an American version. But that won’t hit theaters for at least a few years. Trust me, some regrettable language notwithstanding, you won’t want to wait that long for this gem.
For WORLD Radio, I’m Megan Basham.