A Man Called Otto

Based on the novel A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
Directed by Mark Forster and based on the film A Man Called Ove by Hannes Holm

#grief #comedy #community #purpose


This movie is for you if …. you’re curious about the ways a small community helps a man cope with the grief of losing his child and his wife.
This movie may not be for you if…  you do not want to watch a narrative involving attempted suicide and the death of an unborn child.

At the beginning of A Man Called Otto, Otto’s (Tom Hanks) current life—for reasons we do not yet understand—is filmed in muted colours. These are in keeping with the snow-covered winter-bound neighbourhood where Otto lives. The cinematic pallet is not muted by chance. It is a clever and beautiful element of the production design. It is part of the stunning cinematography at work in this poignant and profound film that deals with grief, loss, and redemption. 

At the beginning of the film we meet Otto in a hardware store buying five feet of rope and some metal brackets and screws. It’s not long before we discover what this rope is for. Otto is going to hang himself to join his dead wife. We understand quickly that he is alone, metaphysically speaking. He lives in a tight knit and supportive neighbourhood, but he isolates himself from his neighbours with his outspoken ill-temper, his aggressive, proprietorial relationship with the goings-on in his street and his anger, all of which are underscored by his depression. 

Why is he like this we wonder? Why is he filled with such displeasure, surliness and depression? Why is his life so grey?

As the film enters a parallel narrative structure, we quickly understand that something has gone wrong in Otto’s life. We meet a much younger Otto (Truman Hanks) on a train platform. This is Otto’s past. Coloured trains trundle by. Blossoms are in pink bloom. A colourful book falls from a young woman’s handbag. Otto races to return it to her. Fate, if we can call it that, is already in motion. Tragedy’s wheels have started to turn. Otto is moving toward love. But also, toward tragedy, as the flashbacks continue to reveal the arc of his life with the book owner, Sonya.   

We cut from the scene where he is suspended (in muted colours) to a parallel narrative, in the form of flashbacks or backstory. Younger Otto meets Sonya. They go out to dinner. She kisses him. Meeting Sonya will bring Otto joy. But it will also bring immense sadness, loss, grief and suicidal thoughts and actions. We learn that Otto and Sonya get married. She becomes pregnant. Then there is a bus crash.  

His depression is shown visually, via the cinema-photography. It is also revealed through the narrative. Then, at Otto’s lowest point, something remarkable happens: Marisol (Mariana Treviño), Tommy (her husband) (Manuel Garcia Rulfo), and their two young daughters move in across the road. Initially Otto is resistant to the new-comers. But Marisol is a force to be reckoned with. She coaxes Otto to come out of his shell. In fact, she loses her temper at him for being so closed. Slowly with her passion and insistence Otto’s kindness and his humanity are revealed. He is still depressed and determined to be with his wife, Sonya. ). But, the positive and kind aspects of his personality are shown: He rescues a man who falls on the train line. He teaches Marisol to drive. He welcomes Malcolm (Mack Bayda) into his home. He (reluctantly) adopts a cat.  

The film is replete with touching scenes about connection and community. Despite his gruffness, it’s clear Otto is known and loved in his local community. 

Although this film is a poignant and stark reminder that we will all die one day, it is not a depressing film. It is uplifting and life-affirming, about love, loss and grief of the highest magnitude.

You can watch A Man Called Otto on Netflix, AppleTV, Prime, Binge, Foxtel and Google TV

Review by Matthew Hooper

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