Kitchen Stories (Norway/Sweden; 92 min.)

directed by: Bent Hamer
starring: Joachim Calmeyer; Tomas Norström; Bjørn Floberg
Salmer fra kjøkkenet
Diane says: "KITCHEN STORIES will be on my nom list for cinematography: lovely palette (1940s hues of greens and browns), nice shots, esp. of low to high or vice versa showing the two characters'--observer and 'host'--vantage points. The ending got a little sappy and predictable, but a nice, slow-mover that made me laugh a lot. A
movie that I would like to show at my Swedish-heritage church." 4 cats

Janet says: "The title of this film is weak (Why the plural 'stories?' It seems like an unsuccessful translation of some other noun. How about just 'story?' Hey, how about 'Kitchen Encounters?' Get it?), but don't let that keep you away. As you may know from reviews or still photos, the premise sets up a new domestic Odd Couple: a fussy Swedish home-efficiency scientist sent to observe an aging Norwegian bachelor's kitchen habits. (In terms of physical types, think of a muted, well-dressed Robin Williams observing the domestic habits of Willie Nelson.)

" The film made me curious to find out more about how Swedes and Norwegians view one another, and I wish I had taken this question to some of the excited Harvard students of those nationalities in the audience at the Brattle last night. The feeling I got was that the two national characters resemble those of England and Scotland---one prim and officious, the other wry, rugged, and ridiculously frugal.

"Good dramatic and symbolic use is made of the observer's absurd high chair, which is similar to those used by linesmen at Wimbledon. In fact, the use of space is so important in this film, and the characters and number of locations so minimal, that it seems that it could originally have been a play, as was Danis Tanovic's 2001 war fable NO MAN'S LAND. And like that film, in which one of the two men in a booby-trapped ditch is forbidden to move, these two men are forbidden to speak, and what compels the viewer is whether they eventually will speak, and how.

"Halfway through the movie I thought we were witnessing part of the dialogue-free trend of FRIDAY NIGHT and TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE. As in those two films, the lack of speech brings other marvels, such as sound and expertly nuanced expression, to the fore. It's worth the price of admission to watch Joachin Calmeyer as the Norwegian, Isak, eat a bar of chocolate. I kept thinking 'Great! No heartwarming stuff. This is clearly all about the acting.' Unfortunately, many viewers will find that the film does not maintain this winning astringency throughout. The musical score is tender and unobtrusive, although in a scene in which Isak plays the saw, I would have preferred no additional sound.

"Diane and I both praised the witty and lucid cinematography. One criticism: The film-within-a-film at the beginning should have been in grainy black and white.
I'll be nominating the astonishing Joachim Calmeyer for best actor, in a portrayal of an older rural man that stands up to Richard Farnsworth's in THE STRAIGHT STORY."

Michael says: "This delightful Norwegian/Swedish production combines the deadpan, droll wit of the recent Finnish film, THE MAN WITHOUT A PAST, the cultural clash leading to mutual respect and admiration of NOSEY PARKER, and the romance without sexual desire of LOST IN TRANSLATION. Norwegian director Bent Hamer tells a touchingly sweet tale of two men from different countries who slowly look past their differences to become friends. After making a study of the kitchen habits of Swedish housewives, The Home Research Institute of Sweden send a groups of trained experts to observe the habits of Norwegian bachelors. While perched by the ceiling on bizarrely tall chairs, these experts can not interact with their subjects. Even talking is a no-no.

Folke is uneasy about Isak, his volunteer subject. He isn't even allowed access to the man's kitchen for the first several days. Originally Isak wants nothing to do with the experiment that he volunteered for, and is uncooperative. This first half of the film is almost entirely without dialogue, relying on bizarre sight gags to provide considerable humor. As Folke and Isak begin to come to terms with each other, dialogue slowly creeps back into the story. There are some fascinating references to the relationship between Norway and Sweden, most notably their roles during WWII that made me wish I knew more about the two countries relationship.

KITCHEN STORIES was Norway's entry to the Academy's Foreign Film Category, but didn't make it. With a strong, yet simple story, nice, simple acting, and outstanding visuals, KITCHEN STORIES is one to remember come Chlotrudis nomination time." 4 cats

Rick says: "In order to design the most efficient kitchen arrangement, a Swedish research firm conducts a study. After all, 'why should housewives have to walk to the equivalent of the Congo each year, when they need only walk to Northern Italy?' Phase 2 of the study involves not housewives this time, but single men. Our middle aged Swedish researcher 'Folke' travels to rural Norway and is assigned 'Isak,' also middle aged and very reluctant be observed. Folke sets up in a ridiculous-looking high chair in a corner of the kitchen drawing diagrams and taking detailed notes of Isak's behavior. Resentful of the whole affair, Isak keeps out of the kitchen as much as possible, doing the cooking in his bedroom. We know nothing about the background of the characters, but sense their loneliness. Slowly, tentatively, they begin to make simple overtures to each other, sharing coffee and food, building trust. This despite the research protocol
prohibition on contact with the subject, and Isak's weariness of Folke, whose country maintained neutrality during WWII as Norway was taken over by Germany and friends were taken to concentration camps (the film appears to be set in the 50's). Together, they slowly erode the restrictive subject/object dynamic, move beyond cultural-historical differences, and relate as actual human beings - with some very sweet, tender scenes.

"It's all really quite beautiful to watch and I had a smile on my face throughout the viewing. Not profoundly moving or mind-blowing but just, well, nice. I don't recommend this to everyone, though it's very worthwhile if you are in the mood for something slow and calm with nothing to jump out and startle you. The subtle Scandinavian humor and sensibility is endearing. The kind of film that I want to show to my grandfather." 3.25 cats