Odd, life’s twists and turns
Like the character it’s named for, “O’Horten” is charming and a little bit daft. The story of some days in the life of Odd Horten (a common enough name in its native Norway), this is a gentle comedy, both funny and melancholy, about a timid soul who discovers the necessity of embracing life in all its absurdity and unlooked-for joy.
“O’Horten” is the latest film by Norwegian writer-director Bent Hamer, whose last film was “Factotum,” the excellent Matt Dillon-starring adaptation of Charles Bukowski. But he is best known for the delicious “Kitchen Stories,” a look at the lives of Norwegian bachelor farmers that has a lot in common with “O’Horten.”
Like those lonely farmers, Odd Horten is a man of set habits who lives for his precise routines. As played by the veteran Baard Owe, whose career goes all the way back to Carl Theodor Dreyer’s classic “Gertrud,” Horten is a Norwegian bachelor train engineer with a regular run whose biggest problem is the occasional moose on the tracks.
Horten’s routine is also a kind of benign straightjacket, but as long as the trains run on time and his comfortable pipe is close at hand, he doesn’t notice. He seems to enjoy the company of a woman who runs a small hotel at his destination city, but the relationship has never gone beyond exchanges of small talk and smiles.
Now, however, Horten’s life is about to undergo two sets of changes, one expected and one not. After 40 years on the job, he is just a few days away from mandatory retirement at age 67, and his fellow engineers, an idiosyncratic lot who spend their spare time trying to guess the sounds of specific trains, present him with the coveted Silver Locomotive.
Ordinarily, Horten would head home after the ceremony, but his brother engineers persuade him to take in a party. Horten’s decision to break precedent and attend seems to trigger something in the universe, leading to an escalating series of small disruptions that get wonderfully strange.
Among the things Horten serendipitously encounters after he’s freed from the moorings of job and routine are a random child who has trouble falling asleep at night, a group of airport security men who are perplexed to find him in their midst and a bemused old man who collects primitive weapons but believes “weapons are all primitive, after all.” Plus someone who believes he can drive with his eyes closed, and proceeds to prove it.
By connecting with lives stranger than his own, Horten discovers a gift for attracting the unexpected he never knew he had. He also manages to reconnect, however tentatively, to humanity, and realizes that life can be a strange and satisfying journey if we give it half a chance. As director Hamer said when this film debuted at Cannes last year, “If you think the thought, it is possible to do anything. It’s never too late.”
Warm, whimsical, with its own way of looking at the world, “O’Horten” is a film made with impeccable delicacy and tact in all departments, including its eccentric score by Norwegian artist Kaada. Nothing about this film even hints at being rushed -- if there were a cinematic equivalent to the Slow Food movement, this would fit right in -- but that doesn’t stop it from being all that you want it to be.
MPAA rating: Unrated
Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes
Playing: In limited release
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