DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: O Horten

Saturday 5 September 2009

O Horten

O Horten (2008) dir. Bent Hamer
Starring: Baard Owe, Espen Skjønberg, ta Nørby, Henny Moan, Bjørn Floberg


O Horten, a Norwegian art comedy, and frequent festival traveler which arrives on DVD from Sony Pictures Classics, plays like ‘About Schmidt’ by way of Roy Andersson – one of those entries in the self-conscious cinema of nothingness. But quirky wideangle imagery and occasional glimpses of surrealism aren’t enough to sustain 90mins of your time.

An odd looking and shy Odd Horten (appropriate first name) is a train engineer on his last day of work before retirement after 40 years of service. It’s the only thing in his life, and we suspect he won’t have much to live for without his beloved trains. On his last day, he misses his shift causing him to wander the streets of Oslo (?) for a couple days meeting other lost souls while contemplating his existence.

Attempts at deadpan humour come off as just plain dead. Director Bent Hamer visualizing the film with the wideangled eye of Roy Andersson (the Swedeish master surrealist and director of 'Songs from the Second Floor'), but without any of his scathing social commentary . But there’s so little of anything to grab onto other than the wide angle wide shots - and some of them look truly majestic. The situations Horten finds himself in wouldn’t be perceived as surreal if it were not for Hamer’s chosen camera angles.

So it seems false and contrived an effort to make someone else’s film. Its not as surreal as he thinks it is, not as profound as he wants, nor as funny and charming as Hamer’s incessesant tone implies. All style over substance in the worst sense.

If anything the only thing we to latch onto is Bard Owe’s thoroughly weathered unexpressive face. His hairstyle, moustache, nicely fitting, though old-fashioned suit and smoking pipe suggests a man stuck in the past, in a routine which is the sole purpose for his existence. And so his reflections upon his ski-jumper mother who broke with tradition and skied in a man's sports is not lost on us.

And so does a purpose to this banal exercise emerge at the end? Horton steals a pair of skis and attempts to ski jump in the middle of night. We don’t even know if he can ski. For all we know he jumped off, broke both legs and I guess its some attempt to connect with past, - he doesn't. But if he did it would have been the much needed jolt of real comedy this film badly needs. Narratively it exasperates the depressing melancholy of this whole affair.

"O Horten" is available on DVD from Sony Picture Classics Home Entertainment

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