Judge Franck Tabouring always wanted to become a train engineer...until he decided planes were way cooler.
Bent Hamer's Norwegian drama O'Horten is a tender, humorous look at a man whose life takes an unpredictable turn when he kicks off his retirement. This is certainly no mainstream movie, but I'm convinced the film will delight loyal fans of calm, meaningful European cinema.
Facts of the Case
Baard Owe stars as Odd Horten, a quiet, pipe-smoking 67-year-old train engineer who loves his job and has been conducting passengers on Norway's railroads for more than forty years. Alas, his time to retire has arrived, and although he's not exactly looking forward to a future without his beloved occupation, he will soon discover that a life without timetables can indeed be quite adventurous.
If Hamer accomplished one thing with O'Horten, it's creating an incredibly likable character I'm sure you'll find very easy to warm up to. Horten is not a man of many words, and although he doesn't have many friends and spends most of his time alone, he's anything but a desperate person. Whether he's enjoying the peaceful ride on his own in his locomotive, having a beer by himself in his favorite cafe, or smoking his pipe without being bothered, Horten is a guy who takes pleasure in what he's doing without ever feeling the need to complain.
Hamer's film also does a truly wonderful job examining what all happens to his man when he's practically forced to retire. Instead of sending Horten into a state of desperation or boredom, Hamer decided to have him experience a whole series of awkward, comic, and, above all, unpredictable events, with a final outcome that's unique and highly amusing to witness. I admit the film operates mostly at a very slow pace, but the subtle humor in Hamer's script and the energy of some of Horten's strange encounters successfully managed to capture my full attention.
I'm not going into further detail of what exactly happens to Horten because I sure don't want to spoil the memorable surprises you'll encounter in this excellent drama, but let me just say his journey includes a pair of high-heeled boots, a hilarious incident at the airport, and a charming encounter with a man who pretends he can drive his car blindfolded. Hamer doesn't look at Horten's retirement as the end of a job he so loved, but rather as the beginning of something unknown that will introduce him to a world off the tracks and far away from familiar platforms or stations. In fact, this is a film about a train engineer who boards a new lifestyle and doesn't know for a second where's he's heading.
Although you won't get to hear that much dialogue in O'Horten, Owe's performance plays a major role in the overall success of the film. His facial expressions speak a thousand words, and he's the perfect actor to portray this particular character. His efforts here are remarkable.
The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation of the movie definitely delivers the goods. A major part of the film takes place in darker environments, but the image quality remains clean and sharp throughout. Hamer also captured some beautiful shots of the snow-covered Norwegian landscapes, and they look great on the small screen. The audio transfer does a solid job as well, even though dialogue and music are not very frequent. All in all, I can only applaud the disc's technical aspects.
Special features are scarce, although on second thought, this film doesn't really require any. The disc includes an informative 10-minute interview with Hamer, and that's pretty much all you need to learn a bit more about the making of the movie. It's a fascinating talk in particular because Hamer gives viewers a detailed insight into who he shapes his character and structures his films. It's a must-see, for sure.
Hamer is an accomplished Norwegian director with some interesting films under his belt (Kitchen Stories, Factotum), and O'Horten is a splendid little adventure I can only recommend. To all the lovers of European art cinema, make sure you board this one, because it's a ride you will never forget.
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