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Back in the day, if you mentioned Norse film, people assumed you were talking about Ingmar Bergman or something similarly dark, dour, and portentous. Somewhere in the 1990s, though, those pale people from the chilly north decided to show the world that they had a sense of humor, albeit one almost as dark as their drama. Credit Finland’s Aki Kaurismaki for leading the way with his stoic, deadpan movies that walk a line between melodrama and parody.

O’Horten is a new film from Norway’s Bent Hamer, whose previous films you may have seen: Kitchen Stories, in which an efficiency expert moves in with a Norwegian bachelor in order to study how he uses his kitchen, and the Charles Bukowski adaptation Factotum, starring Matt Dillon.

The title refers to Odd Horten (Bard Owe), a train engineer facing mandatory retirement after 40 years on the job, mostly running a train between Oslo and Bergen. At one end is his bachelor apartment; at the other, a widow whom he visits when he’s in town.

The Norse pride themselves on their efficiency, and Horten is a creature of routine. O’Horten is about life after routine. What this man, in fine health at the age of 67 and ordinary in a way that belies his name, planned to do with his time isn’t clear to us and probably not to him, but he faces it with a resigned optimism that (along with his ever-present pipe) makes you think at least a bit of Jacques Tati’s Monsieur Hulot.

Hamer constructs his film as a series of vignettes, some longer than others. Filming mostly at night (when wintry cities look their best) gives the movie a slightly surreal, otherworldly aspect, as if Horten is undergoing a comparatively lucid dream in which retired diplomats drive blindfolded and businessmen sit down on icy streets to slide their way home. The most sustained comic sequence is when the retired engineer is forced to deal with someplace he has never been before—an airport, whose institutional paranoia can’t help but make you yearn for the peace of train travel. O’Horten is an appealingly gentle comedy that may strike the impatient as pointless—but without patience, isn’t everything?

m. faust

Watch the trailer for O'Horten

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