Baard OweEspen SkjonbergGhita NorbyHenny Moan
Medium: film
Year: 2007
Director: Bent Hamer
Writer: Bent Hamer, Tom Gulbrandsen
Country: Norway, Germany, France, Denmark
Language: Norwegian
Actor: Baard Owe, Espen Skjonberg, Ghita Norby, Henny Moan, Bjorn Floberg, Kai Remlow, Per Jansen, Bjarte Hjelmeland, Gard B. Eidsvold, Bjorn Jenseg, Morten Ruda, Lars Oyno, Trond-Viggo Torgersen, Peder Anders Lohne Hamer, Anette Sagen, Bard Brinchmann, Kari Loland, Peter Bredal, Nils Gaup, Karl Sundby
Format: 90 minutes
Website category: Foreign language
Review date: 15 April 2012
It's a 2007 Norwegian film without much of a plot. It's about a 67-year-old train engineer called Odd Horten who's about to retire. It was Norway's official submission that year for the Best Foreign Film Oscar, but personally I don't think it's even as good as its DVD cover.
What happens in the film is... not a lot, really. O'Horten (Baard Owe) retires, has a leaving party, meets some mildly unusual people and walks away a lot. He never gets involved with anyone. He hardly does anything, in fact. Instead he keeps having the bare minimum of interaction with people before getting the hell away from them. He gets locked out of the building where his colleagues are celebrating his retirement. He meets a small boy, then goes away. He sees his mother, then goes away. (It's possible that some of these scenes aren't shown to us in chronological order, but the order in which they really happened is both unclear and unimportant.)
It's all like that. Faintly absurdist scenes happen, with no real connection to each other or to the protagonist. It's like cinematic doodling. Admittedly it's endearing and sometimes even amusing, but it gets dull after a while and O'Horten himself is a bit dull too. Like the film, he just stands there and doesn't really react to anything.
This is deliberate, mind you. O'Horten is an elderly guy who's never had to think or do anything unpredictable for forty years, with colleagues whose idea of an evening's entertainment is to identify trains from brief sound clips. They're like those Doctor Who fans who can say the name of a story based on a glimpse of the TARDIS console. O'Horten starts out as one of those people, but over the course of the film discards all the things that link him to his previously ordered existence until by the end, he's abandoned his uniform, faced up to his lifelong regrets and appears to be about to start living his life. In fairness this is a story worth telling and it's all there for the audience, if you can get past the film's ultra-deadpan mode of delivery and its avoidance of drama.
The cast is both first-rate and underwhelming. Some of Norway's most esteemed senior acting names are here, but most of them only show up in cameos. It's that kind of movie. Baard Owe is the only one who's around for the duration, but even he isn't everything I'd hoped for. You see, I love his face. On the DVD cover, he's irrestible. He's got this gentle, slightly wizened face that you'd expect to be wonderful, but unfortunately in the film he doesn't react to anything much.
Stuff I liked:
(a) the train nerds
(b) the businessman sliding down the frozen street
(c) the occasional plonking, tinkling music that either isn't melodic at all or sounds like a nursery rhyme
It's an elegant movie. Anything that might have been presented dramatically is either undercut or seen from a distance. It also has a lot of dialogue-free scenes and there's usually no music either. In the abstract it sounds like something I'd really like, especially since it's definitely quirky. I want to like it more than I do, but I can't get around the fact that I got a bit bored in the middle. Tomoko hated it, by the way, and she didn't much like the editing either.
Would I recommend it? No, I wouldn't. However I can understand its appeal and Baard Owe is lovable in the title role, even if he is playing a bit of a weirdo. He's always running away! The critics liked it and the box office was disappointing, both of which sound plausible. It's not an audience-pleaser. It's too rarefied for that, but it has its charms.