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Friday, June 26, 2009

O’Horten doesn’t quite punch the ticket

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Mark Twain famously remarked that the coldest winter he ever spent was a summer in San Francisco. Bent Hamer’s O’Horten suggests that the saddest movie you’ll ever see could be a comedy from Norway. And it’s not exactly warm, either.

In its oblique way, O’Horten explores the identity crisis faced by 67-year-old train engineer Odd Horten (Bård Owe) upon his mandatory retirement. Early scenes establish Horten as a creature of habit — not a social butterfly. He seems content to live alone and spend his hours piloting trains through snowy Scandinavian landscapes with only his pipe for company.

Retirement discombobulates him, and to his shame, a series of unfortunate events make him miss his final assignment. The bulk of O’Horten observes the wry but morose protagonist over a series of disconnected episodes. Frequently, the scenes involve minimal dialogue, and culminate with Horten’s embarrassment or withdrawal, comparable to the misadventures of Jacques Tati or Mr. Bean. Hamer’s use of snowy locations, burnished interiors, and formal compositions feels akin to Coen brothers’ films like Fargo.

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(Image by Hans-Jorgan Osnes/Sony Pictures Classics)

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