Thursday, October 27, 2005

Kitchen Stories

2003, Norway/Sweden, directed by Bent Hamer (original title: Salmer Fra Kjøkkenet)

Kitchen Stories might function as an object lesson in how to make the most of unpromising - on paper - beginnings, for it's a little gem, poignant and richly detailed, with wonderfully delicate performances and direction. The film follows participants in a 1950's study run by a Swedish institute keen to explore the kitchen habits of single Norwegian men, with the object of designing the perfectly efficient kitchen. The study takes place in a rural area, and each volunteer agrees to allow an observer to sit in his kitchen, on a comically high chair, following, and logging, the daily routine. Interaction between subject and observer is strictly forbidden. The focus is on Isak, an older farmer, and Folke, his observer, two men who, it quickly becomes apparent, are no strangers to loneliness. Isak subverts the process from the very beginning, cooking in his bedroom, and turning out the light in his kitchen to render observation impossible. Slowly, inevitably, however, a bond begins to develop between the two men: the cup of coffee that breaks the silence is almost heart-breaking, and a rich friendship evolves between two fundamentally decent human beings who have lacked the opportunity to express that decency to others. With so little dialogue in the first half of the film, there's a rich vein of visual humour on display, particularly in Isak's mischief, or the brilliant sequence when the observers, each driving a car towing a little caravan, reach the Norwegian border and are forced to switch to other side of the road, since the two countries weren't coordinated at the time. What remains most sharply in the mind, however, are the two deceptively simple lead performances, restrained yet detailed, and the unhurried direction, that allows a series of vignettes to acquire a bracing power.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States