2003, NR, 93 min. Directed by Bent Hamer. Starring Joachim Calmeyer, Bjørn Floberg, Reine Brynolfsson.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., April 2, 2004
In the science of observation, we have learned that any interaction between the observer and the subject automatically skews the outcome. The scientists of Sweden’s Home Research Institute have had this caution repeatedly drummed into their heads. A post-WWII group of home scientists, the institute conducts efficiency studies designed to bring science to the placement of kitchen work stations so that women need to take fewer steps to accomplish the same amount of work and conserve human resources. Now the institute is embarking on a study of single men in a remote section of Norway, where there just so happens to be a lot of bachelors. Folke (Tomas Norström) is assigned to Isak (Calmeyer), who wants to back out of the study and consequently starts messing with Folke’s head. Then Folke surreptitiously uses the salt shaker in Isak’s kitchen, and before long, science has been supplanted by human interest. Kitchen Stories is a dry comedy about the subtle connections between individuals. The comedy is most obvious in some of the film’s opening sequences, which include some humorous newsreel footage of the institute’s studies and the images of a long caravan of motor homes wending its way to Norway. Folke eventually becomes just one more lonely and isolated man living in this inhospitable sub-Arctic locale, having more in common with his subject than his fellow scientists. The comedy plays out in near-wordless exchanges between Folke and Isak, and the viewers become the real researchers in this movie as we watch and try to make sense of what is going on. Writer-director Bent Hamer’s comedy is subdued and dependent on expert timing, though the film might have benefited from taking its human observations a couple steps farther. But, I suppose, that would have been inefficient. As it is, Kitchen Stories is an enjoyable study of ridiculous regimentation and a sure balm to anyone who has overdosed on the efficient designs at Ikea.