By Heidi Simmons
Movie adaptations are often criticized for being “not as good as the book.” Turning a bestseller into a big hit can be a significant and daunting challenge for filmmakers. There is an art to successfully adapting a book to film, and sadly not many movies do it well.
But it does happen, and “A Man Called Ove” is one of the rare cases where the movie is as good as the book – maybe even better.
“Ove” writer and director Hannes Holms, and cinematographer Göran Hallberg were guests of the Palm Springs International Film Festival. The filmmakers participated in two Q&A screenings and the “Eyes on the Prize: Foreign Language Oscar Directors in Discussion” program held at the Mary Pickford Theater in Cathedral City.
The film is one of the nine Oscar Foreign Language shortlisted films in the Festival.
Based on the book with the same title, A Man Called Ove was written by Swedish author Fredrik Backman. The book was published in 2012 and became a bestseller. “Ove” was published in the United States three years later and is currently the number one paperback bestseller.
“When the producer came to me with the book, I didn’t even want to look at it,” said filmmaker Holms. “I told her no, but when she left – – she was smart — she didn’t take the book. I picked it up and I didn’t put it down until I finished reading it.”
The story is about a man named Ove who is a quiet curmudgeon and stickler for the rules. He has lost his wife and his purpose to live. When he attempts to take his life, he is rudely interrupted by new neighbors and the unfolding events in his community that require his help and attention.
Ove soon finds himself involved in the lives of those around him in ways he never expected. In flashbacks we meet Ove as a boy and a young man, we soon understand his world view. The movie is a heartwarming and bittersweet story of love, kindness and compassion.
The book is 368 pages while the movie is 116 minutes. When Holms asked the audience how many had read the book about one fifth raised their hands.
“I never did an adaptation before,” said Holms. “One person’s advice was to make sure the first scene matched the novel exactly. I tried that, but that didn’t work. As we started filming I realized in order to serve the story – and the budget – we had to make changes.”
Holms captured the spirit and story beautifully, perhaps the most import requirement in adapting a book for film. With its nonlinear structure and all the characters present in the film that were in the book, the movie works on the same emotional level as the novel.
“A Man Called Ove” was one of the films shown to our valley’s high-schoolers during the PSIFF “Student Screening Day” program.
“The kids had lots of questions,” said Holms. “They liked Ove’s wife who is a teacher and were interested in her as a character, and especially her relationships with the students.”
The filmmakers were relaxing in the PSIFF Hospitality Suite after a successful screening at the Palm Springs High School Richards Center for the Arts auditorium. Holms and Hallberg enjoyed the sunny warm weather comparing it to Sweden’s summer and said they rode fat-wheeled bikes around town during their visit.
Holms is a charming, charismatic and energetic person. It’s not hard to visualize him bounding to the front of the auditorium and onto the stage to accept the Oscar for “A Man Called Ove.” Indeed, it is a wonderful and worthy film.