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A Man Called Ove: Celebrating the Use of Space in Swedish Cinema

What are we beyond our memories? It was just after having a petty argument with the florist, an ignorant teen as she was that Ove first exposes the dimensions of his existence. Grieved by the death of the only love of his life, Sonja, we see him dissipating his space by magnifying his trivialities. A man that knew no work than the one that involved car engines, we see a reflection of unfaithful involvement with life in his disturbed yet deliberate movement. Who is this man; one may ask. There are blatant contradictions in his existence. Who is this being who dejects life and then lives only to uphold every law of it? We get our answers, unwoven thread by thread, in Hannes Holme’s A Man Called Ove.

The most fascinating element of this film is the use of space. We not only see the characters associating meanings to a particular space but also get metaphorically represented by it. For instance, the movie hardly shows us panoramic view of the entire space. Mostly, we are kept in the ‘guarded’ and ‘restricted’ space of Ove’s residential colony, his home and during the latter part of the film, his car. The only instances of open space with elements of movement and divergence come in the flashback scenes from Ove’s childhood and adulthood when there were present, reasons for him to escape linearity. This contradiction in the use of space in the representation of past and present tells us about the importance of life in the eyes of this weary old man called Ove. After the death of his wife Sonja, his life has lost any motivation to move beyond the linearity and hence the only space he restricts himself to is the restricted and regimented space of his residence. Moreover, it is only during his budding friendship with Parvaneh that we see the open space of a restaurant or the city road being brought back to his life (Interestingly he relates such openness with the time he used to have with his wife).

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It is hard to deny the metaphorical use of space in the narrative of the film. The one that strikes the most is the train station. It is this space where we see intertwining of Ove’s past, present and a probable future. It is this space that stands for the very nature life; which is nothing but a mosaic of losses and love, of things being built and destroyed. So much so that the moving train almost felt like the ruthless movement of life itself. We are introduced to this space time and again to emphasise on the philosophy that life cannot be contextualised unitarily. It is the semiotic nature of everything that life offers us that makes it beyond every degree human comprehension. One baring example of this can be the scene from Ove’s mother’s funeral.

Lastly, I’ll take this discussion on memories to the use of strong representational symbols. And the one that struck me the most was the cat. Like every morning of life, this cat kept on showing up on Ove’s door, every time more undesirable than before, even after his constant shooing off. As the movie progresses, we can see the changing relationship of the cat with the protagonist that ran parallel to the change in perspective on life that he had. It is when Parvaneh tells him that it is you that have to take care of this cat that I see a bell being rang in Ove’s head telling him that his life shall be engineered by his own volition.

Even though there existed a beautiful sub-narrative that talked about inclusivity and diversity (the fact that Ove became friends with an Iranian refugee and a gay man) it is the natural display of empathy that inspired the screenplay. The very idea that we can delve into each others’ hearts while not being patronising at all speaks volumes about the most important common denominator that we share – humanity.

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Avatar (2009)

This film is a calculation-just as each of the four hundred million dollars that was gathered to make it was tabulated, so was each element of this film measured, weighed, and tested for maximum popular reaction. And given the healthy box office this has done, the ploy has clearly worked.

Much has been made of how director James Cameron spent several years building his universe from the ground up. This element of the film is impressive, though no more so than many similarly focused video game franchises. Cameron and his army of technicians have made a world which, while overflowing with details, has no purpose beyond novelty. Cameron’s world gives no insight into the world in which we live, but counter-intuitively makes an argument against the natural world-in order to hold the attention and sympathies of modern audiences, an elaborate simulacra must be constructed from scratch.

Despite fashionable claims of subversive tendencies, Avatar works similarly to the first episode of Roots, wherein a white slave ship driver is suddenly troubled by the immoral nature of his trade. While posing as a ‘courageous’ treatment of a touchy social issue, each in fact works as a balm on the troubled conscience of the American public. The audience is given an easy means of relation to the text-of course they’ll relate more to the troubled white man rather than face the more troubling implications of the more enthusiastic slave trader. Similar tactics were taken in such films as The Power of One and Dances With Wolves. In fact, this film’s main plot, that of an anthropologist-type who becomes so enchanted with the foreign group he’s studying that he joins them and eventually fights against his own social group, a sort of glorified stockholm syndrome, is so similar to Wolves that Cameron’s film might as well be retitled “Dances With Smurfs”.

In Avatar, complicated and ugly affairs that range from ecological destruction to the genocide of the Native-Americans are wrapped into an appealingly simplified package of cliche Joseph Campbell*-isms that were old when Star Wars did them. Every subconscious trigger that could be pulled out is. Stephen Lang’s Colonel Quaritch baits residual American resentment against Nazi/Communist aryan supermen just as Dolph Lundgren did in Rocky IV. The vague romanticized paganism so popularized by various new age groups is on display and the bizarrely Pentecoastal style services of the Na’vi play on the American distrust of science and rationality. The social acceptance younger audiences yearn for is vicariously given to them through the illogical acceptance and eventual social ascendance of Jake Sully in the Na’vi society.

And on top of all of this, Cameron’s vaguely romanticist evocations of a sensual bond with nature reveal themselves to be awkward and downright troublesome when scrutinized. The Na’vi tails, which open up to show a sort of sparkling Fios cable are continually alluded to as being sexual organs (specifically in the scene where Sully consummates his relationship with the female leader of the tribe and when he’s told if he touches it he’ll “go blind”). Yet when Sully domesticates his flying dinosaur creature, the process he goes through to do so then would resemble nothing so much as forced sex with the animal.

The film is immersive and the group I saw it with loved it. This does not, however, make Avatar a good film.