As movie gods decree, two Swedish films with elderly gentlemen for unlikely protagonists, are now on home video.The 100 Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (2013) is a kind of Scandinavian riff on Forrest Gump. And nominated for Best Foreign Film at this year’s Oscars, the unique A Man Called Ove is even better.
The first film is delightful and silly; the second is delightful and moving.
Based on a popular 2009 novel, The 100 Year-Old Man… is narrated by Allan Karlsson (Robert Gustafsson) who, true to the title, exits the window of his nursing home, and has a series of colorful, unbelievable flashbacks and rollicking new adventures, seamlessly interwoven by writer/director Felix Herngren.
Simple rather than simple-minded, Allan has always been fascinated with blowing things up. His predilection for big bangs puts him in unusual places and circumstances with some of the most familiar and important faces of 20th-century history. He accidentally saves General Franco in the Spanish Civil War, unwittingly gives Oppenheimer the key to the atomic bomb, and gets Stalin drunk before ending up in a gulag. He escapes that (after accidentally blowing everything up), with Einstein’s mentally challenged brother, is recruited by the CIA as a double agent, crossing paths with Reagan and Gorbachev. The Berlin Wall falls, another consequence of Allan’s fortuitous ineptitude.
Those adventures occur prior to his 100th birthday. After that, an accidental acquisition of a suitcase full of drug money gets him pursued by gangsters. With some motley new friends (including an elephant), he takes off for Bali and a beautiful sunset. Through it all, Allan is a naïve innocent, unwittingly leaving both chaos and triumph in his wake.
Minus the sentiment and seriousness of Forrest Gump,The 100 Year-Old Man… is more reminiscent of Woody Allen’s underrated Zelig, though without either’s cinematic tricks. Cleverly edited, flawlessly directed, the movie’s a magnificent comic romp, its target the funny bone rather than the mind or the heart.
Though seasoned with abundant humor, A Man Called Ove reserves its major appeal for the mind and the heart. The 100 Year-Old Man… will make you laugh. A Man Called Ove will make you laugh, sniffle and think.
The protagonist of the title (Rolf Lassgard) is a crotchety old man, the terror of a suburban community of which he deems himself the enforcer, constantly patrolling the streets and berating anyone who breaks the rules regarding trash, pets, discards, etc. Turns out, he’s also bound and determined to kill himself — his beloved wife recently died.
However, all of Ove’s carefully orchestrated attempts at suicide go awry, mostly occasioned by the arrival of new neighbors — young Persian mother Parvaneh (Bahar Pars), her two young daughters, and their totally inept but goodhearted Swedish father, Patrick. Ove, who wants to die so he can be with his dead wife, is grudgingly coaxed back into life by the aggressive demands of the heavily pregnant Parvaneh and her brood.
The gruff curmudgeon, isolated and insulated by his grief, is saddled with other new acquaintances as well, including an overweight tech guy, a young gay man who was thrown out of his father’s house, and a young guy whose romantic dreams are hampered by a broken bike and a mangy cat.
Like The 100 Year-Old Man…, the movie cuts back and forth from the present to Ove’s past, tracing his relationship with his father and his courtship and marriage to Sonja (Ida Engvoll). The narratives of both timelines include rich humor and heartache in equal doses, neither response ever forced or false. On the surface, Ove may seem a simple man, but the film is a rich mosaic of an ordinary man’s complex life.
Based on Frederick Backman’s justly acclaimed 2013 bestseller, A Man Called Ove is a masterpiece of movie magic — writing, direction and acting all top-notch. It’s one of those movies you’ll tell your friends about, and then watch it again with them.