Oscars: Why Politics Are Secondary to the Character's Humanity in 'A Man Called Ove'

Courtesy of Music Box Films
'A Man Called Ove'

Director Hannes Holm says he does not plan to boycott the Oscars in the wake of the president's attempted travel ban for visitors from seven majority-Muslim nations: "If you don't come, maybe it's even better for Trump."

Sweden's A Man Called Ove, a heartwarming comedy about a curmudgeonly widower, is a story with legs. And thanks to its Oscar nomination, it's sure to travel. But one of its stars, Bahar Pars, who holds dual Iranian and Swedish citizenship, might not be able to.

At press time, President Trump's travel ban on refugees and others from seven Muslim-majority countries had been suspended by a federal judge. But with the administration's appeal pending, the ban's fate is uncertain — as is Pars' ability to attend the Oscars.

"Of course it's terrible," says director Hannes Holm. "But I texted Bahar, and I told her I don't believe in walls. If you build a wall, there will always be some way you can slip through, a hole or something."

Holm regards the Oscars as the Academy's party. If the Academy wants "me or Bahar or anyone to come, I will come," he affirms. A boycott would play into Trump's hands, he adds, "because the voters of Mr. Trump don't give a shit about [foreigners]. It's part of the idea, to keep [them] out. So if you don't come, maybe it's even better for Trump."

There's a twisted irony in this set of circumstances. Based on a wildly successful novel by Swedish author Fredrik Backman, Ove is not a political film. It is a human story about a man whose love for his dead wife has prevented him from moving on and fully engaging in life. After he is laid off, Ove spends his time doing three things: policing his neighbors, visiting his wife's grave and trying to kill himself. But when Pars' character, Parvaneh, a lively Iranian woman, moves in next door along with her hapless Swedish husband and their three children, Ove finds himself reconnecting with his fellow human beings in all their lovable messiness.

Much of Ove's power lies in Holm's light touch when it comes to characters in the story that have the potential for controversy: Parvaneh and a young gay man for whom Ove opens his home. Holm treats these people and their identities and problems as matters of fact; that they cross paths with Ove merely is the kind of thing that happens in an increasingly global, evolving world.

"I love to tell a story," says Holm. "So if I have a story with an Iranian girl in it, from this novel, it was important for me not to [say], 'Here comes the immigrant, the refugee.' I want the audience to feel, 'Here comes a girl.' She's a person. And then after a while you have this kind of immigrant situation, and I think that's the best way to tell it, to make people change."

Adds Holm: "First story, then message."

This story first appeared in a February standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.