It’s A Dry Humor In “O’Horten”
How many movies can you name that are so charming you hate to see them end? Add the Norwegian film “O’Horten” to the list, now playing at the Loft Cinema. Written and directed by Bent Hamer, with the quietly dignified Baard Owe in the title role, “O’Horten” perfectly captures the bittersweet relief of retirement.
Owe plays the Norwegian bachelor Odd Horten. Somewhat reluctant to engage in life unless there’s a very good reason, he’s a perfect match for the descriptions of Norwegian bachelor farmers on Garrison Keillor’s public radio show “A Prairie Home Companion.”
Only, Horten is an extremely responsible engineer in the driver’s seat of high-speed modern passenger trains that cut through Norway’s deep snows blanketing pure white landscapes from horizon to horizon. He sits in the train’s cockpit like a jet pilot with elbow room, a taciturn demeanor as he keeps the train running smoothly at an extreme rate of speed.
This is the contrast that makes “O’Horten” so magical. He is a man of equal parts calmness and adventure. There is no scene so extreme he can be startled. No situation so complex he would be pushed to panic.
Yet, he is too shy to disappoint a child. Too polite to refuse when an eccentric old guy who was sleeping in the street insists he can drive a car blindfolded. There is a sequence where a storm of freezing rain coats a hilly street with ice. As Horten hangs onto a signpost halfway up the hill, a nicely dressed gentleman sitting in a chair goes sliding down the hill.
Surreal? Yes. But remember when North Alvernon Way would fill up with water in a storm? Guys would go surfing down the middle of the street. As a filmmaker, Hamer appreciated how a logical path can take us into the most ludicrous situations.
And “O’Horten” makes us wonder if anyone lost in a strange building could open a door marked “Do Not Enter” and suddenly slip into a parallel universe.
For sure, this is a picture for grownups. It does have subtitles in English, as well as slow pacing and a quirky soundtrack that will require a certain maturity to appreciate. But knowing how the plot goes will reveal none of the story’s complexities.
We meet Odd Horten on his last day of employment, at the controls of a sleek bullet train. That evening he receives a dorky retirement party, and immediately feels like the rug of life has been jerked out from under him.
We see him sitting alone in a restaurant, then having one low-key misadventure after another, each more unusual than the last. Reluctant to give up, Horton still has no idea how to make the most of each day. That’s when he discovers life on the sidelines may never make the headlines, but for the brave of heart there will be opportunities.