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Norway 2003
Directed by
Bent Hamer
95 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
3.5 stars

Kitchen Stories

Synopsis: In the 1950s the Swedes did research on housewives to determine optimum kitchen layouts based upon working patterns. In Kitchen Stories a team of scientists conducts a similar survey of bachelors in Norway. Observers are despatched, made to sit in high chairs in the corner of their host's kitchen, take notes, but above all they are bound to have absolutely no contact with their subject. Folke (Tomas Norstrom) is assigned to observe grumpy Isak (Joachim Calmeyer) who lives in a remote farmhouse. Against all injunctions, an unexpected and touching friendship between these two odd fellows develops.

Kitchen Stories has garnered several prestigious awards and rightly so. It is refreshingly different. The word that sprang to mind from the minute it started was "quirky". The jaunty opening scenes, with their idiosyncratic music, contribute to the careful recreation of the '50s feel. This is then built upon with a wonderful visual construction of a convoy of comically rounded caravans heading for Norway.

The script is at once amusing and touching. Hamer makes excellent use of silence in the initial scenes in which day after day Folke sits and observes. Without any dialogue, much is revealed about these two men, while many wryly amusing incidents take place. After such a protracted build-up, and with Isak playing his own game of observation, the eventual first verbal contact between the men comes like a bombshell. Such a wonderful surprise, and with absolutely no special effects! The slow deliberate build-up is to be relished in this type of film, so different from the immediacy of blockbuster cinema, but not to the taste of impatient "I want it now!" viewers.

Despite its humour, the film is suffused with deeper emotion and a certain philosophical introspection - Isak lovingly tends his horse who keeps bleeding from its muzzle; his only friend Grant (Bjorn Floberg) delivers several moments of extreme poignancy, and in one of their kitchen conversations Isak and Folke deliberate over whether the time of one's death is predetermined.

The rigidity of quasi-governmental organisations is amusingly explored via Folke's boss, who almost stalks his workers to be sure they are not having any human contact with their subjects other than observing them. In this way the film raises the question of whether true understanding of other individuals comes via observation or engagement, and essentially answers its own question as it gently, affectionately and humorously explores the basic human need for interaction and friendship. Like the subtlest of flavours, this one sneaks up on you to leave you with a deep sense of satisfaction.




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