O' Horten


O' Horten Review

Norwegian filmmaker Bent Hamer is nothing if not an individualist. Slow and sly, his films focus on the common man in such an offbeat and challenging way that it's clear he has as little regard for commercial gain as he has for cinematic spectacle. That is to say, his minimalist world is an acquired taste. My conversion came about with his more than quirky Kitchen Stories of 2003.

Hamer builds his central characters around the minutest details of a man's routine, and he loves characters who have sealed themselves into a life of stolid isolation. Here, 67-year-old train engineer Odd Horten (Baard Owe) is placed by the auteur in an Oslo apartment a few yards from the city streetcar that whips by in blurred frenzy outside his window, a sudden and loud contrast to the undisruptable quiet within.

The resident stands apart from the shrill outside by the utter simplicity and exactitude of his life and his job. He's a man with the right temperament for hour upon hour of conducting a train over miles of track. That he is disposed to steady concentration in his little capsule of an engine room, and that he will perform his job to perfection, are givens.

His fellow engineers respect and admire him for it, and know well their colleague's monastic idiosyncrasies as they hold a dinner to honor his retirement. Expecting very little from him in response, they push him to accept an award for his 40 years of service along with a little camaraderie that tests his social graces. As a consequence, the tone of the occasion is more melancholy than celebratory.

But peculiar things occur to a Hamer hero even though the expectation of anything overtly dramatic is nil. Old Horten runs into Trygve Sissener (Espen Skjonberg), a man roughly the same age who challenges his version of oddness. Sensing Horten's kindred spirit, Sissener invites the retired trainmaster to his home to show off his trophies of travel and adventure. Pride of accomplishment jumps to another plane, however, when the host informs his guest that he's always had this ability to see with his eyes shut, and probably still does. Wanting to prove it, he takes Horten for a drive with his head in a bag. Where this goes exactly is not to be revealed here, but it has to do with that dog in the poster photo.

In a world where social activity is a standard, the hermetic eccentric is an island of whimsical singularity, offering to substitute one's thirst for thriller entertainment with the quietude of understated satire. The picture's title O' Horten isn't, of course, a stab at turning a Norwegian Irish, but just the way they put what we would render as "O. Horten." Ever the sly one, that Hamer.

Aka O'Horten.

Facts and Figures

Production compaines: Bulbul Films


Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Cast & Crew


Producer: , Alexandre Mallet-Guy,

Starring: as Odd Horten, Espen Skjønberg as Trygve Sissener, Ghita Nørby as Mrs. Thøgersen