O' Horten Reviews
The film, from start to finish, is a simple character study of Odd Horten, driver of said train, a conservative 67 year-old Norwegian man who drags behind him a life of all work and no play. He has nothing to say for himself, let alone his time on the planet. He just has to complete his last ever trip of to-ing and fro-ing between Bergen on the west coast and Oslo in the east, then he can retire into obscurity, to be forgotten, just how he'd like it. On the eve of his retirement, a misunderstanding causes him to be locked out of his own party, and so, climbing through the window of a neighbour, he is stopped by a small boy and appears to befriend him. The film then proceeds to do something totally unexpected.
What is so charming, so clever and so entertaining about O'Horten is that it never stops wheeling out its endless arsenal of random events, leading some to claim it's a take on existentialism and the meaning of life. For instance, Nordahl, the small boy, is in one scene only, and he's never seen again. Bent Hamer's creation here is a series of random events that are seemingly unrelated but, in reality, all have a common link; Horten himself. The events may have happened and the time will have passed without him, but Odd goes through all this mess with us. There are no ups, no downs, nothing truly remarkable happens and yet we still never have a moment to catch our breath. Falling asleep in a sauna, walking the streets of Oslo wearing high heels, meeting a schizophrenic man who believes he can drive blindfolded, selling a boat, ski jumping, swimming with lesbians and being arrested for smoking a pipe in the middle of Gardermoen airport taxiway; you name it, Odd's been there.
Never taking itself too seriously (or seriously at all for that matter), O'Horten plods along from A to Z without any revelations, without drama, without a denouement. What's more, set to the backdrop of urban Oslo (and John Eric Kaada's simply breathtaking score), it barely has any style to speak of. It's not colourful or visually thrilling, but it has something found in all Hamer films - comedic timing. It's got humour by the bucketloads, taking aim at anything from the bizarre, true-to life shortness with which the Norwegians address each other to the totally ridiculous instances of a man's ice-maker flooding his house with ice cubes, two characters starting a conversation with
"Can you believe Nissan is Japanese?"
"... It certainly doesn't sound Japanese."
"Maybe if it were Swedish..."
O'Horten is, at heart, a beautiful, heartfelt celebration of humankind; a reminder that life is interesting and exciting without car chases, without murder, without anything really happening at all. Life is entertaining even at its dullest moments, and while some may find this excruciatingly scrutinised vision of the passing time dull or lacking in bite, to me, Bent Hamer has created a sly little comedy using nothing more than the natural humour of, well, people. What they say, how they act, what they do and why. Nothing more, nothing less; whatever goes, goes, and from where the viewer is standing, the film is often heavily unbalanced, completely unstructured and the narrative is totally baffling, but hey, that fits the story, right? We wouldn't have it any other way.
Hamer's latest film "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 reach the shelves of your local video store.
Very early on, you realize that "O' Horten," both literally and figuratively, is an ocean away from Hollywood. It''s hard to categorize, and even harder to summate. The film follows Odd Horten, a 67-year-old train engineer, on the eve of his retirement. I suppose it could be called a late-in-life coming of age tale, or 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. It is the human response to outlandish circumstance which defines the film, and in this way, Odd's journey through the film is paramount to his destination.
"O' Horten" is very aware of its surroundings. It utilizes the Nordic winter as a character per se, a technique that is unobtrusively reinforced by the beautiful cinematography. Every other aspect of the film is a similar lesson in restraint. The production stays out your way, letting the characters quietly have their say, and allowing Hamer's strange vision to thrive.
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 Odd.
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.
Hamer approaches the film with the same whimsy and complexity that has marked his work heretofore.
His approach to character is unorthodox, but effective. Rather than implement a traditional development structure, Hamer drops Odd unceremoniously into the bizarre. 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 dreamlike 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.
"O'Horten" is Scandinavian filmmaking its best - droll, but profound. Unique, but accessible. Ethereal, but never without focus. Most impressively of all, "O'Horten" manages to gently imbue its melancholy with a sense of hope - an indomitable warmth beneath so much snow.
meandering, charming and beautifully disarming.