2008 // Norway // Bent Hamer // November 22, 2008 // Theatrical Print (Landmark Plaza Frontenac Cinema)
If Ingmar Bergman and Wes Anderson had a love child, it might look something like Bent Hamer's O'Horten, a compelling portrait of a life in transition, daubed with bits of illuminating strangeness. With a watchable blend of staid crispness and humorous insight, Baard Owe portrays Odd Horten, a taciturn, no-nonense train engineer on the cusp of retirement. The film follows Horten through a series of set pieces that can only loosely be termed a plot: a retirement party, selling his boat, purchasing a smoking pipe, meeting a drunk on the street. The film's essence lies in its moments and gestures, rather than in the narrative inertia of linked scenes. In short, nothing really happens, but it's a credit to Owe's comforting performance and director Hamer's unhurried empathy that it still engages. Uncanny sights pass us and Horten by—a man being arrested at a restaurant, a prone motorcyclist sliding past on an icy street—with Owe providing a subtle reaction and Hamer establishing a thematic context. Melancholy and determinedly gradual, it's not the sort of film for everyone. Its potency lies in its slow discovery of a distinctively Scandinavian mood and its gentle probing of abstracts such as dignity and contentment.