Photo credit: Sony Pictures Classics
Asst. Lifestyle Editor
Norway is full of natural treasures. There is ice. There are fjords. And there’s Director Bent Hamer.
Hamer’s drama/comedy/character study “O’ Horten” was originally released in 2007, and has spent the last few years navigating the mystical and convoluted path that every foreign film must take to arrive in the catalogue of your favorite streaming service.
Very early on, viewers realize that “O’ Horten,” both literally and figuratively, is an ocean away from Hollywood. It’s hard to categorize just what makes “O’Horten such a unique experience. Perhaps it’s the film’s stately pace, or maybe the selection of a very un-American protagonist. Whatever the reason, “O’Horten” is triumphant in its strangeness.
The film follows Odd Horten, a 67-year-old train engineer, on the eve of his retirement. Odd is flawlessly rendered by film veteran Baard Owe, who gives a master class in dramatic delicacy, carefully and laboriously crafting the incremental unfolding of his character. The film could be called a late in life coming of age tale, or a perhaps a deadpan comedy about an old dog learning old tricks. To reduce the film into a synopsis, though, is to rob it of its stately and subtle charm.
Hamer created the film with the same whimsy and complexity that has marked his previous work. His approach to character is unorthodox, but effective. Silence plays an important role in Hamer’s films, and to those accustomed to American films, the dialogue can seem sparse. However, each and every performance is careful and sentient, and even the briefest of interactions are worthwhile.
In addition to interesting characterization, “O’Horten” benefits from a strong sense of place. Hamer utilizes the Nordic winter as a character in and of itself, a technique that is unobtrusively reinforced by John Christian Rosenlund’s beautiful cinematography.
Every other aspect of the film is a similar lesson in restraint. The production stays out of the viewers’ way, letting the characters quietly have their say, and allowing Hamer’s strange vision to thrive. Rather than implement a traditional development structure, Hamer drops Odd unceremoniously into bizarre, sometimes almost dreamlike circumstances. Among a wealth of other strange occurrences, Odd wanders the icy streets of Oslo in red high heels, takes a midnight drive with a blind motorist, and in one of the film’s best and most surreal scenes, watches as a dignified gentleman glides, seated, down an ice covered street. Odd’s movement through the story is intuitive, but each event feels more like a vignette than means to a dramatic end. Despite the episodic feel of the happenings, cohesion is never sacrificed. It’s impossible to guess where Odd is headed, but every step seems to have its place. It is the human response to outlandish circumstance that defines the film, and in this way, Odd’s journey is paramount to his destination.
“O’Horten” is Scandinavian filmmaking at its best – droll, but profound. Unique, but accessible. Ethereal, but never without focus. Most impressive of all, “O’Horten” manages to gently imbue its melancholy with a sense of hope – indomitable warmth beneath so much snow.
“O’Horten” is available on iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon Instant Video