out of Five
Running time: 95
In Norwegian with English subtitles
Quirky, deadpan and surprisingly touching comedy – the official Norwegian entry for the 2004 Best Foreign Film Oscar.
Norwegian writer-director Bent Hamer’s quirky comedy drama Kitchen Stories is set in Norway in the 1950s, during the undertaking of a mass-observation project led by Swedish scientists.
Having successfully mapped the kitchen behaviour of the Swedish housewife, the scientists at the Swedish Home Research Institute have concluded that the average housewife walks the distance from Sweden to the Congo each year due to basic inefficiency.
Calibrating Domestic Inefficiency
With this in mind, the research boffins send a team of observers to the remote rural district of Landstad in Norway, in order to study the kitchen habits of its high number of bachelors, this being the key, apparently, to calibrating domestic inefficiency.
Tomas Norstrom stars as Folke, one of the team of observers, who lands the none-too-enticing prospect of observing the initially reticent Isak (Joachim Calmeyer), a grumpy old bachelor in an isolated farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. The rules, however, are strict: Folke must not attempt to engage his subject in conversation and he must live outside the farmhouse in a bizarre, green, egg-shaped caravan.
The initial set-up is extremely amusing – Folke’s position of impartial
observation is from the top of a specially constructed giant-sized ‘high chair’ and since all Isak does is occasionally come in, boil an egg, eat it and leave (turning the light out every time), he gets bored very quickly. Gradually, however, the two men start to break the rules and interact a little – the little pranks they play on each other are extremely sweet.
Remarkably Little Dialogue
There’s remarkably little dialogue for a large part of the film and both actors are adept at deadpan comedy acting – particularly during the delightful sequence where Folke has broken the rules by moving a
salt-shaker. There’s good support, too, from Bjorn Floberg as the talkative project overseer.
Aside from the gentle comedy element, Hamer also has a good eye for a
memorable image, such as the long line of green egg-shaped caravans snaking through the snowy wilderness. There’s also a glorious, ‘rebellious’ finale of the sort that wouldn’t be out of place in a cheesy Hollywood comedy, made all the more effective by Hamer’s under-stated direction.
In short, Kitchen Stories is an extremely sweet comedy-drama, beginning as a gentle satire on 1950s scientific rationalisation and ending as a touching tale of the unlikely friendship between two men - it’s been deservedly selected as Norway’s official entry for the Best Foreign Film Oscar. Recommended.