Starring Bård Owe. In Norwegian with English subtitles. Rated G. Opens Friday, June 5, at the Cinemark Tinseltown
One of the main reasons why Scandinavian screen comedy has undergone a major renaissance in recent years can be attributed to the fact that Nordic filmmakers have finally figured out that to the rest of the world they're about as funny as the Germans, Swiss, and Dutch. Rather than fight this popular prejudice, they have wisely decided to work with it. Movies don't have to be “jolly” in order to get a laugh, after all. If that were true, Buster Keaton and Woody Allen would never have gotten to stand before or behind a camera.
Watch the trailer for O'Horten.
O'Horten is a prime example of this new tendency. The nearly eponymous hero of the piece is a recently retired railroad engineer named Odd Horten (Bård Owe, who brilliantly crosshatches the wittiest characteristics of Jacques Tati and “Old Stoneface” into his on-screen persona) whose social contacts are largely limited to a senile mother, an ailing tobacconist, and a beloved boat that he might be forced to sell. A chance encounter with a self-destructive hedonist who likes to drive drunk with his eyes closed casts this overly settled existence into utter chaos, and it gradually begins to appear that a meaningful life without choo-choo trains just might be possible.
Although the influence of Aki Kaurismäí¤ki and Lars von Trier can be felt in this feature, director Bent Hamer is very much his own man (something which he abundantly proved in Kitchen Stories). O'Horten is droll, rather than sidesplitting, more atmospheric than uproarious. Nevertheless, this is a very satisfying comedy, the kind of motion picture that reminds us that humour, too, can be a kind of art.