- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 20, 2016

Like a certain other Swedish filmmaker, director Hannes Holm is obsessed with death. The 53-year-old auteur of “The Reunion” and “Behind Blue Eyes,” who has made the end of life one of the running themes in his work, says that, as proved by the great Ingmar Bergman before him, it is part of the Swedish DNA to ruminate on man’s temporary residence on this planet.

“I like death, you could say,” Mr. Holm told The Washington Times with a wry chuckle. “It’s such a good element to have even in the most funny sense.”

Mr. Holm’s newest film, “A Man Called Ove,” based on a novel by Fredrik Backman, is about a stereotypically bitter old widower (Rolf Lassgard) who develops an unlikely friendship with his neighbor Parvaneh (Bahar Pars). Seeming to know his death is imminent, Ove begins to re-examine his life choices.

Mr. Holm, who typically writes original screenplays, was initially reluctant to adapt the book for the screen, but eventually decided this must be his next project.

“You have to be stupid to take on a best-seller novel because you’ll always have these angry book-lovers on your back,” Mr. Holm said of his adaptation. “The people are going to the cinema just to see in what way you have massacred their lovely book.”

Mr. Holm said that being perhaps too faithful to the source material can in fact hamstring an adaptation, that the temptation to be scrupulous to a book may in fact harm the ultimate end result — artistic license is what is needed.

“Treating the book as the bible … that’s a bad way,” he said. “When you tell the story from the book to your friends, you’re not telling the story of the book, you’re telling your story of the book.”

Mr. Holm said casting Mr. Lassgard, one of Sweden’s preeminent actors, for the black comedy made sense even though Mr. Lassgard is primarily known as a straight dramatic actor.

“‘Take it easy, Rolf, I want a good actor in this film,’” Mr. Holm recalled responding to Mr. Lassgard’s protestations.

Unlike in America, where megacorporations bankroll huge films, the model in Sweden is small and dependent upon government assistance and small investments. Mr. Holm said this keeps a stricter focus on artistic endeavor rather than scope — again calling back to Bergman’s existential works exploring man’s place in a world with a silent God.

“Being a Scandinavian director, I have no money, but I have freedom,” Mr. Holm said, adding that his next film will, of course, also focus on ennui and death.

“A Man Called Ove” opens Friday at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

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