September 22, 2009
DVD OF THE WEEK: O'Horten
directed by Bent Hamer
2007, 90 minutes, in Norwegian with English subtitles
Sony Pictures Classics The oddest quality about the 67-year-old Norwegian pipe puffer who grants this low-key absurdist comedy its title is his name: Odd Horten. Or perhaps, because this loyal railroad engineer of four decades is a creature not just of habit but of synched timetables, his dedication to his near-ceremonial morning preparation is the mark of an eccentric. Meticulously dressed, polite and reticent, the lanky Horten walks curiously through the wintry Nordic landscape with a stiff upper everything. He's the epitome of everyman dignity, though his ever-present pipe and ability to meander into frame as a curious, Magoo-ish observer draw easy comparisons to the accidental slapstick of Jacques Tati's Monsieur Hulot. In a wonderfully and precisely understated performance, Baard Owe (whose craggy, mustachioed, ovoidal mug also suggests a blood relation to the French actor Jean Rochefort) doesn't just carry the film; he is the film. If you can settle into his playful deadpan rhythms, a bittersweetly funny, existential mystery—or call it a modest adventure, if that's not too oxymoronic—awaits. Perhaps more credit should be given to another oddly named fellow, writer-director Bent Hamer (Kitchen Stories, Factotum), whose witty, shaggy-dog scenarios and hypnotic tone-setting are so naturalistically crafted (and exquisitely shot!) that his story really does seem to evolve out of fate and Horten's reactions. The film begins as our hapless hero is forced into mandatory retirement due to his age, throwing this graying bachelor's life figuratively and literally gone off the rails. (Here's a double-feature idea: Up.) In a series of increasingly droll encounters, Horten accidentally breaks into an apartment where a young boy holds him hostage, gets lost on an airport tarmac, and later winds up riding shotgun in a car with a stranger who enjoys driving long distances while blindfolded. Going with the flow of such humbling surprises, the kind that could only happen to someone who has let go of their regimented existence, Horten becomes a magnet for the high weirdness in humanity, and the cosmic punchlines in the unknown. Growing old has never seemed so frustrating yet fun.
Posted by ahillis at September 22, 2009 10:23 PM