Directed by Bent Hamer. Starring Bård Owe, Espen Skjønberg, Ghita Nørby, Bjørn Floberg, Kai Remlov, Henny Moan, Per Jansen, Bjarte Hjelmeland, Lars Ønyo. (2009, PG-13, 90 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Aug. 7, 2009
O'Horten, a spare and perfectly droll kinda-sorta comedy from Norwegian director Hamer (he helmed the fine Charles Bukowski film adaptation of Factotum), feels like a cross between Jacques Tati and Ingmar Bergman, minus the latter's ceaselessly madcap antics. Okay, so maybe Bergman isn't the best example – zany he wasn't – but Hamer's film is certainly a very, very serious comedy. Set against the wind-whipped and frequently bleak winterscape of Oslo, this strange little gem of a film is the antithesis of everything you'll see coming out of Hollywood by summer's end, and as such it's a welcome respite. O’Horten is sustained by a flat-out brilliant performance by Owe as the titular train engineer (his full name is Odd Horten, which surely must be one of most accurate protagonist monikers in all of film history), whose lifelong daily routine is disrupted when he's forced to take retirement at age 67. Hamer's film works as a somber meditation on what happens to men (or women) when the long-established patterns of their lives are shuttlecocked out into the relatively unknown. Owe imbues his unassuming, entirely believable character with a quiet grace and stoicism that belies the unexpected tidal swells of emotion within. Here is a man who lives for his workaday routine – his tiny, immaculate apartment rests below a train-rattled overpass, and a sequence of him getting into his engineer's uniform has a delightful sort of anti-fetishism that brings to mind the cinematic cliché of extremely serious men ritualistically strapping on their weaponry prior to the big showdown. There are no showdowns of great consequence in O'Horten – nothing much happens at all, by Hollywood standards – but Owe and Hamer (and cinematographer John Christian Rosenlund) manage to make freight even the most trivial of events with subtle comic import. By the time Odd Horten chances across a drunken free spirit in the form of Skjønberg's wealthy and philosophically bent Trygve – an encounter which takes this heretofore pleasingly somnambulant film in a new and wonderful direction – it's abundantly clear that it's not Horten who is the odd one, but everyone else. Owe starred in the terrific Lars van Trier mega-film/television series The Kingdom, and viewers who only know him from that disturbing spookfest will likely be surprised by his gift for deadpan, Keaton-esque comedy. His rigid posture – both literal and metaphorical – throughout O'Horten is worth the price of admission alone. Here is a man cut loose from his moorings and setting out on a second great adventure, a description that applies just as easily to Hamer's fine and frosty film.