Tuesday, July 17, 2018
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Writer/Director Hannes Holm Reflects On "A Man Called Ove"
Director/writer Hannes Holm (l) and actor Rolf Lassgård in "A Man Called Ove" (courtesy of Music Box Films)
Filmmaker Aske Bang discusses his moving short, "Silent Nights"
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For director/writer Hannes Holm, the realization that his Swedish film A Man Called Ove (Music Box Films) earned Oscar nominations for Best Foreign Language Film of the Year and Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling (Eva Von Bahr, Love Larson) finally hit home for him at the recent Academy Awards luncheon in Beverly Hills, Calif.

“It gave me a warm feeling to be there with all the other nominees, including Eva and Love,” shared Holm. “I was especially moved to hear the Academy president [Cheryl Boone Isaacs] talk about how filmmakers all over the world are connected and part of a creative community. I strongly felt connected with other filmmakers and a part of this community at that luncheon. I think it will help me when I write my next script. Starting with a blank slate can be overwhelming. Now I feel stronger in convincing myself that I can fill that blank space with something worthwhile.”

Holm certainly filled in the blanks to great effect with the screenplay for A Man Called Ove, adapted from Fredrik Backman’s international best-selling novel of the same name. The title character, Ove, is the proverbial angry old man. An isolated retiree, highly principled and wound tightly with a short fuse, Ove spends his days enforcing block association rules that only he cares about, and visiting his wife’s grave. Ove has seemingly given up on life until a boisterous young family moves into the neighborhood. From an inauspicious beginning in which the new neighbors accidentally knock over Ove’s mailbox springs an unlikely friendship and we come to understand Ove’s past happiness and heartbreaks. It’s a heartwarming tale which gently reminds us that life is sweeter when it’s shared.

A Man Called Ove has become one of Sweden’s biggest locally produced box office hits ever, and has earned critical acclaim worldwide.

For Holm, among the biggest challenges posed by A Man Called Ove was penning the screenplay. “It’s the first adaptation I’ve ever done. When you come up with a story by yourself, it’s from your own brain and body. This wasn’t the case with Ove and that made me a bit shy in the beginning. I felt like a thief. But as I got into the story, I felt more like a ‘professional thief,’” he quipped. “I learned not to be too shy in trying to do justice to the story.”

As for what the story means to him, Holm related, “The novel brings us this grumpy old man whom everyone in the neighborhood hates. But ultimately it’s a beautiful love story. It teaches you to believe in love. While car chases and robberies are commercial things in movies, Ove’s story shows that your feelings can be commercial. Audiences have come out for his story.”

Holm cited the contributions of many for helping the story to resonate with viewers, including actor Rolf Lassgård who portrays Ove, and Oscar nominees Von Bahr and Larson. Of the latter two, Holm noted that prior to A Man Called Ove he had worked with Larson and Von Bahr separately but never with both of them together. “They took me into the character’s space with their artistry,” said Holm of the husband-and-wife makeup duo. “I was fortunate to have a crew in which everyone thought of story first.”

As for Lassgård, he has been nominated for the Best Actor Guldbagge Award (Sweden’s Academy Awards) four times, winning most recently for his performance as Ove. Lassgård is perhaps best known to U.S. audiences for lead roles in two past Foreign Language Oscar nominees--director Colin Nutley’s Under The Sun (nominated in 2000) and Susanne Bier’s After The Wedding (2007).

Up next for director Holm is the Swedish miniseries Delhis vackraste hander, based on the book by Mikael Bergstrand, and slated to shoot in Sweden and India.

Silent Nights
For Aske Bang, Silent Nights earning an Oscar nomination for Best Live Action Short is “a dream come true.” Bang directed the Danish film and co-wrote it with his father, Ib Kastrup. “I’ve watched the Oscar shows for years and dreamt one day of being a part of it,” shared Bang. “Now that I am, I’m thankful and proud. I hope the nomination will open up opportunities for me to work in the States.

Silent Nights introduces us to a young Danish woman named Inger (portrayed by Malene Beltoft Olsen) who’s a volunteer at a housing shelter in Copenhagen. She falls in love with a homeless, illegal immigrant, Kwame (Prince Yaw Appiah)--only to one day find out a secret he's been keeping back in his native Ghana. How she ultimately deals with her feelings for him makes for a moving story. 

The springboard for that story, related Bang, came in his own backyard. Bang and his dad live in an area of Copenhagen where African immigrants hang out, trying to cobble together an existence by collecting bottles and taking on odd jobs. “Close to where my father and I live, there’s this shelter where immigrants stay at night,” noted Bang. “My dad one day suggested that it might be very cool to explore a relationship between one of the shelter workers and an immigrant. From there we jumped into the project.”

But with limited funds, great patience and perseverance were needed. The movie was shot on and off again over a year’s time in Copenhagen and Ghana. For Bang, the biggest takeaway from the experience was the power of commitment. “We kept believing in this film even though there was often no money. We never gave up. And in the end, it was all worthwhile.”

Spurring Bang on was the story which delved into “the complexity of human beings and their relationships. A person can be good even if he or she does something bad. The immigrant steals money from the shelter because he wants to save his family back home. He still deserves forgiveness--which he ultimately receives. And even though her mother is racist and an alcoholic, the shelter worker still loves her. Nobody is pure evil. There is redemption. I very much like that complexity in the story and the characters.”

While Silent Nights garnered Bang his first career Oscar nomination, the short’s producer, Kim Magnusson, is no stranger to the Academy Awards. Silent Nights marks Magnusson’s sixth career Best Live Action Short Oscar nomination. He’s won twice--for Election Night (Valgaften) in 1999 (shared with director Anders Thomas Jensen), and for Helium in 2014 (shared with director Anders Walter). 

This is the 15th and concluding installment of the multi-part The Road To Oscar series. Later this month, The SHOOT>e.dition, The SHOOT Dailies and SHOOTonline.com will provide full coverage of the Oscar winners. The Academy Awards will be held on Feb. 26 at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood, and will be televised live by the ABC Television Network. The Oscar presentation also will be televised live in more than 225 countries and territories worldwide.

Credits for ScreenWork: 

Hannes Holm, director/writer

Annica Bellander, Nicklas Wikstrom Nicastro, producers

Fredrik Wikstrom Nicastro, Michael Hjort, executive producers

Lone Korslund, Jessica Ask, Hanne Palmquist, Per Bouveng, co-producers

Goran Hallberg, DP

Fredrik Morheden, editor

Evan Von Bahr, Love Larson, makeup and hair styling

CamillaLindblom, costumes