Film Review: A Man Called Ove


The Highs and Lows of Swedish Life: Heartwarming tale of friendships healing powers.


Hannes Holm’s adaptation of Fredrik Backman’s bestselling novel is guaranteed to bring tears to the eyes. One of Sweden’s most successful films, A Man Called Ove is the nation’s entry for the Oscars. It is a touching story of a grumpy old man who is unable to come to terms with grief.

Ove (Rolf Lassgård) is made redundant after 43 years service at the local rail network. The loss of a job so soon after his wife’s death pushes Ove to the brink. Determined to rejoin his wife he decides to end his life.

An intricate study of grief and resentment, the film is perhaps the closest Sweden has come to producing a home-grown equivalent of It’s A Wonderful Life. Director Hannes Holm’s tragi-comedic exploration of loss and acceptance is a celebration of the power of friendship.


A tightly constructed script uses flashback sequences to let the audience see the tragic events that turned Ove into a curmudgeonly old man at war with the world. Unashamedly sentimental, the film is underscored by a strain of morbid Scandinavian humour. Poignant and moving, it shows how Sweden has changed over the last half century and makes a positive contribution to the ongoing debate about immigration.

Rolf Lassgård delivers a career-defining performance as the crotchety senior citizen who is tired of life. The film gives him an opportunity to flex his comedic muscles while displaying an intense sensitivity beneath, In lesser hands Ove might have come across as mawkish or a grotesque parody. Lassgård’s complex and layered performance grabs from the opening frame. He will have you laughing and crying throughout the film.

Bahar Pars rises to the challenge of playing opposite Lassgård. As pushy neighbour Parvenah she is effectively playing Clarence to Ove’s George Bailey. She creates a three-dimensional character which never descends into stereotype.

Possibly the most emotional cinema-going experience you will have this year. Take plenty of tissues.

A Man Called Ove is screening at the Nordic-Baltic Film Festival.

DVD Review: Easy Money

After several years spent working as a criminal defence lawyer Jens Lapidus penned the first volume in the Stockholm Noir trilogy. Instantly successful, the novel would end up being the fourth best selling book in Sweden during 2007. Drawing from observations gained during his career in the legal profession Lapidus moved away the school of Scandinavian crime fiction pioneered by Sjöwall and Wahlöö which focused on the investigator within a narrative that critiqued capitalist society. Concentrating on the criminal’s perspective whilst commentating on aspirational society the author steadfastly refused to demonise lawbreakers, delving deep into their backgrounds to show them as fully fleshed individuals with hopes and dreams they are revealed to be unwitting victims of an economic infrastructure that fetishizes profit .

Instantly captivated by the book’s authenticity, director Daniel Espinosa expressed an interest in adapting it but a few years would pass before a chance meeting with film producer and rights holder Fredrik Wikström allowed the project to become a reality. Hugely popular in Scandinavia the film would lead to two further sequels and an American remake is currently in pre-production.

Student JW (Joel Kinnaman – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Killing, Robocop) lives a schizophrenic life. By day he is enrolled on a business course but at night he parties with the high flying elite in exclusive bars and restaurants. Clearly living beyond his meagre means, a part time job as an occasional mini cab driver is JW’s only source of income. Enraptured by the lure of wealth and attracted to a glamorous heiress he is offered a way to finance his lifestyle by a local gang. Working alongside recently escaped convict Jorge ( Matias Varela – Arne Dahl) JW arranges a one one-off cocaine deal fully intended to use the proceeds to finance a new life but the local mafia has other ideas…

A violent thriller, it interweaves and JW and Jorge’s backgrounds before contrasting, reconciling and then once again placing their relationship in jeopardy. Despite having very little in common they are equally at risk of being discarded by the dangerous criminal fraternity which has become a surrogate family to them both. This mismatched pair may have a better chance of surviving if they betray their compatriots before being discarded and left for dead.

Combining Nordic Noir with the cynicism of the American New Wave, Easy Money creates, or recreates, an all too believable social milieu. Dripping with authenticity the film offers a view of gang culture that could only have been written by someone who deals with criminals on a daily basis.

Easy Money can be ordered from Amazon:

A trailer can be viewed here:

Jagarna (The Hunters)

The establishment of a consensus regarding Nordic Noir as a generic (or subgeneric) form and/or movement is something that is continuously debated both at the levels of content owners and within audience networks. Whilst the conceptual categories employed by individual audience members may, at times, differ somewhat from those utilised by commercial interests, the relatively scant knowledge concerning filmic and televisual texts has facilitated a situation in which both parties routinely trade information concerning fresh discoveries. For instance, Arrow Films’ dedicated Nordic Noir Facebook and Twitter accounts provide an online presence in which, in addition to promoting forthcoming releases, users may recommend titles for possible DVD release in the UK and Ireland whilst simultaneously providing critical commentary and maintaining community networks.

To classify Nordic Noir fandom as existing primarily in electronic form is at best a vast generalization and at worst deeply problematic. UCL’s Nordic Noir Book Club provides a physical environment for the discussion of literary texts and Arrow Films has recently announced the establishment of a film club which will screen content in advance of theatrical distribution and/or DVD release. Arrow Films venture will, when possible, incorporate question and answer sessions with creative personnel, this progressive approach emulates the convention experience enjoyed by other forms of media fandom and demonstrates that the distributor is actively seeking to engage with its core customer base. The establishment of a semi regular film club has the potential to enable fans to physically meet with other like minded individuals consequently strengthening relationships that may have previously only exited in terms of electronic communication.

Somewhat bravely, Arrow Films has elected to launch its film club by screening a sequel to a 1996 film. Jagarna 2 (False Trail) is a film directed by Kjell Sundvall and starring Rolf Lassgård (Wallander), the central premise is of the main protagonist returning to a rural community some years after the conclusion of the first film to investigate a particularly grisly murderer. I have been assured that Jagarna 2 is a relatively self contained text and a familiarity with the originating material is not a prerequisite for enjoying this latest instalment. Arrow Films marketing strategy for Jagarna 2 is directed at two distinct audiences; the causal purchaser and those whom are more inclined to seek out back catalogue items. The English language title, False Trail, evokes the investigative strand of the narrative and makes no reference whatsoever to the previous film but in e-mail correspondence to members of the film club Arrow Films cited the first film in this series possibly due to an already established familiarity with this filmic text by aficionados.

Released in the UK under the title The Hunters, Jagarna is a Swedish film about a police officer who returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral and soon becomes involved in investigating reindeer poaching. Jagarna is fundamentally a film in which dramatic tension is generated by the collision of oppositional forces/perspectives. After several years living and working in an urban environment (Stockholm) the protagonist has adopted a world view and working practices which run counter to those of the rural community. In his professional and domestic identities the protagonist is continuously reminded that urban sophistication has no place within Norrbotten.

Initially welcomed as a returning hero the protagonist is rapidly shunned by members of the community and faces increasing jeopardy as long term friends become enemies. The primary investigation seemingly relatively small scale becomes one that threatens to tear the entire community apart and expose the local police force as being institutionally corrupt.

Jagarna is a filmic text that is influenced by the Western genre. Through his dual roles as police officer and family member the protagonist is constantly seeking to tame the wilderness. In his absence the community has remained relatively unchanged and it is only through the death of his father that long standing tensions are openly expressed. Burdened by guilt due to years of exile and inaction the protagonist seeks to make amends by reinforcing law within the community and forging a stronger relationship with his brother. The all pervading stench of criminality and corruption is something the hero struggles not to be contaminated by. No matter how diligent he tries to be in his work ethic the professionalism is eroded in encounters with his brother thus setting up a moral dilemma which is present throughout the film.

For those who are going to see Jagarna 2 (False Trail) the original film is worth tracking down. A DVD with English subtitles is available from Amazon:

Jagarna 2 (False Trail) will be released theatrically on 16 November:

Nobels testamante (Nobel’s Last Will)

Since 2003 Swedish production company Yellow Bird has consistently constructed high end crime dramas for both the cinema screen and televisual transmission. To viewers from the UK the company is best known for the Millennium trilogy, Headhunters, Wallander (English language and Swedish versions). It’s most recent foray into filmic texts, Nobels testamente, represents an interesting transformation with regards the distribution of content which I will discuss in greater detail at various points throughout this blog entry.

Nobels testamante is an adaptation of a literary text by Liza Marklund. An English language version of the text, entitled Last Will, is to be published by Transworld Publishers on 27 September. The literary text is the sixth in a series of Nodic Noir novels featuring the journalist Annika Bengtzon. The rights to translate the Bengzton literary texts into feature films was previously held by Svensk Filmindustri and under the terms of the agreement they produced two movies directed by Colin Nutley and starring Anna Fredriksson; Sprängaren (2001), and Paradiset (2003).

As the current right holders ,Yellow Bird, and its co-producers, have embarked upon the ambitious project of simultaneously adapting six of the eight Annika Bengtzon novels and releasing them throughout 2012. Nobels testamente is the the first in this filmic franchise and it was released theatrically in Sweden on 2 March 2012. Additionally, the film has been released in several other territories including New Zealand and Australia but to date no UK screenings have been announced. Subsequent films in the franchise have been released direct to DVD and the viability of using a theatrical release to trail further instalments which are sold directly to the consumer is relatively untested, at least in the UK marketplace, consequently this development warrants further investigation.

Whilst Nobels testamante has been selected to launch the filmic franchise, the literary source material is the sixth in a series of eight texts and the extent to which this has necessitated substantial modifications to the protagonist’s character arc is something which requires consumption of all six filmic texts to determine and therefore, for now, I will focus solely on Nobels testamente analysing it’s effectiveness at persuading consumers to consider investing time and money in seeking out successive instalments.

The heroine, Annika Bengtzon (Malin Crépin), is a journalist who works for the Swedish newspaper Kvällspressen. Her primary assignment of covering the annual Nobel prize giving ceremony is modified somewhat after she witnesses the assassination of the recipient. The mutually exclusive roles of witness in a police investigation and lead journalist for a best selling tabloid create narrative tension as Annika is prohibited by a point of law from doing her job. The male imposed, and enforced, restriction of Annika’s professional practices initiates her attempts to subvert and ignore any obstacles establishes the character’s world view, personal arc, and frames similarities/differences with the primary antagonist.

Thematically, this is a film about the protagonist’s unwillingness to accept or be dominated by what she perceives as the inefficiency of male dominated society. In professional and private spheres she repeatedly demonstrates that the strictures which require her to conform to a particular mode of behaviour are inherently misguided. How she asserts her right to perform on her own terms propels the investigative aspect of the narrative and also leads to some simultaneously amusing and horrifying moments, particularly when she confronts a child who has been bullying her son and rather than adopt the more passive approach favoured by her partner she proceeds to inform the bully that she will kill him should he ever again terrorise her child.

That the literary texts which sired this filmic franchise are currently being issued to a UK audience might be part of a strategy to introduce the brand via print before issuing the films on DVD. On the basis of this first film I would not go out of my way to actively seek any of the sequels but were I familiar with the print version then perhaps my motivation would be to see all six films in order to ascertain how successfully they have been translated to the screen.