Time Out New York Project: Issue #711, May 14-May 20, 2009
Dir. Bent Hamer. 2007. PG-13. 90mins. In Norwegian, with subtitles. Baard Owe, Espen Skjønberg, Ghita Nørby.
Writer-director Bent Hamer’s Norway-set O’Horten is a preciously deadpan comedy that never lays claim to its own distinct identity; it’s cinema as a mass-manufactured snow globe. The film’s atrociously Photoshopped poster—in which recently retired train engineer Odd Horten (Owe) holds a large, spotted dog wearing a priceless “You gotta be fuckin’ kiddin’ me!” grimace—epitomizes Hamer’s tendency toward belabored feel-goodery. Horten’s many misadventures (be it a skinny-dip in the local pool or a self-actualizing nighttime ski jump) are all in service of some vague idea of inner harmony. The humor is constricted by the film’s idealized endpoint rather than growing organically out of the character at its center.
You might recognize O’Horten’s star from his role as the composer-lover in Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Gertrud. There’s a miles-wide gulf separating Dreyer’s incisive psychological masterpiece from Hamer’s excruciating bit of middlebrow whimsy, but Owe makes the most of his role. With his neatly slanted cap and efficiency expert’s bearing, he might be the saintly sibling of Tintin’s devil-on-the-shoulder alcoholic Captain Haddock. Horten is a walking sight gag that Owe, despite the film surrounding him, manages to give some recognizably human presence. He’s a true professional trapped in a whirligig rehash of themes better explored by filmmakers like Aki Kaurismäki, Jim Jarmusch and Roy Andersson.—Keith Uhlich