A MAN CALLED OVE – COMEDY THAT BREAKS YOUR HEART

man-called-ove

“Whatever we do in this life, no one gets out of it alive.” This witty utterance, from a man who’s simply had enough of everything, referring to his own mortality, sets the morbidly fascinating tone of this exclusively brilliant Swedish film.

Ove is a character who has accepted his fate. Life’s portrait has lost its colour, and everyone in it has turned into an “idiot”. Ove wants to commit suicide. But the tender side to death’s ambition is a strong will to reunite with his recently deceased wife. Life began with her presence and ended with her passing. So why go on living? He is also a very ill-tempered and bitter old man. So it doesn’t take long to realise that the odds for living are really not stacked in his favour. That is until a new family arrive in the neighbourhood; a shock at first, but a family with two young daughters brings vital new energy and perspective to Ove’s life. The film turns into a heartwarming story of a man who slowly begins to realise that if we aren’t living as human beings then we might as well be dead (or surrender to death). Ove learns to how to live again.

This is not to say that Ove didn’t once play a more active part in life. The film tactfully cuts back to his childhood and early adulthood to show a graceful person who once fell deeply in love and had a great deal of ambition as an engineer. Ove loves to build things: houses, engines; he’s a man who lives for infrastructure and obeying the way things are done best, which also means you’re a fool if you don’t drive a Saab. It’s seems a stubborn characteristic from a millennial’s viewpoint, but in the tradition of Ove, rules are in place to make the world run more efficiently and therefore life is just better for it. When somebody dares to puncture the system by, for example, driving down the path that should not be driven on, it threatens to not only rupture Ove’s temper, but to destroy his entire equilibrium and cause a mental catastrophe. He’s one of those men whose admirable levels of sensitivity to their way of being allow for an occasional forgiveness toward their equally extreme mannerisms. You’ll certainly need some patience getting to grips with him.

A Man Called Ove is ultimately a microscopic character-study candidly crafted by the director, Hannes Holm. Thankfully, the material and Rolf Lassgard’s performance are both deserved of the time spent. Holm has managed to pick apart every detail of Ove’s world, which becomes more comical beat by beat. It’s an absurd world to most, no doubt about that, but the film reaches a level of uniqueness that all comedy needs in order to flourish. It cannot be defined, but it can be asserted as a miraculous achievement.

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CINEMA METAPHYSICS: ALIVE AND DECEASED

Astoria auditorium, Mr Parker the projectionist arranged the coloured stage lighting, pink on the right and green on the left

Despite the morbid approach to the title of this short rumination, we will discover that the deceased can offer plenty of inspiration in thinking about cinema. Physically, cinema allows thousands of great lives to be relived onscreen, but looking at the metaphysics of it all, cinema is somehow able to share a literal time and space with those who have passed. Cinema exists but only in so far as the dead exist in the present. Cinema itself is not spiritual, it does not exist without our viewing, but once it is viewed, cinema is able to life a life hidden in the depths of our very own subconscious. However, the characters that we experience and that feel so real to us will be dead; they cease to exist from the moment they are conceptualised and put into a medium of fiction. But more importantly, the moving-image cannot breath, i.e. once an image is captured, the actual subject is no longer alive or present. This is what can be frustrating for audiences of the cinema: we are witnessing a theoretical death, as it pretends to be very much alive.

Another way to reach this conclusion is by basing one’s ideas on memories. We witness and remember a film much like we do our own memories. Firstly, the material of a film can be transcribed as the physical rendering of memories. The memories of the writer, director, or whoever one wishes to favour as auteur in the filmmaking process. Memories belong to the imaginary and cinema is one great big orgasm of imagination. Secondly, when reflecting on a film, we process it as a lived experience, in a similar way that we may re-process an important meeting that took place last week, or a date who never turned up. The parallels are so acute that our minds are fooled into thinking of the cinematic event as a real event. This is otherwise known more simply as one’s suspension of disbelief. But I am arguing beyond this, I argue that cinema becomes a construct of real memory, inseparable from the chaos of our own lives. You can think of it like this: if the cinema makes feel or act, then you are alive and the effect is real.

How is this connected to a notion of the deceased? One might argue that the deceased actually did live once upon a time, and so how come cinema can exist on equal terms of time and space? This is very true, but there is still something missing. The cinema has lived, but only its existence was shorter and confined to the present moment of occupying the cinema’s auditorium. It is a scattered life and not directly compatible with the timeline of a human life. Therefore, cinema is only able to exist in conjunction with our own existence for the duration of the film, unless we are to witness multiple viewings.

We are talking about the time and space occupied after the spectacle, the space occupied by our mind re-processing the cinematic event. The cinema deceased will live on in our memories can be remembered as we remember those we have known and perhaps loved. Even if we live within the cinema, it will remain mortal after every event. However, it is a great fortune, as we can revisit the deceased and dip back into the dark for another ninety minutes or so. It will always be our friend, even though it never did exist in the first place, it tricked you into thinking it did. It is like having a dream of your once beloved, only to wake up the next morning to a shattering reality that they are no longer there.

Note: I frequently use cinema to refer to film processes as well as the auditorium. This is because cinema can refer to the entire medium of film rather than be cut short by perspectives of a particular film. Cinema is the ontology of the movies. And any theory of spectatorship should be based on the place where that medium is best experienced: in the CINEMA!

For good measure, you can find this daring documentary of Michael Haneke’s work on YouTube: