Thursday, September 24, 2009

O'Horten (2007)


Train engineer of 40 years, Odd Horten (Baard Owe) is hitting the retirement age of 67, and yet after all these years has no real family or friends to show for it. A social outcast, he embarks on a series of small adventures in trying to determine what to do with the rest of his life.

I heard about this film from a friend of mine who highly recommended. Part study of a man trying to find his place in life after work, and part interpretive, Hamer's 2007 drama is a creatively crafted film that is both oddly pleasant and yet not necessarily beautiful. There's a lot of interesting character traits about our main character Odd Horten that you begin to notice as the film goes along: He is almost always smoking his pipe regardless of where he is, he likes to do things late at night after a place is closed, never removes his conductors jacket post-retirement, and while very shy, will do adventurous things (such as skinny dipping).

The one thing I enjoyed most about this film is watching Baard Owe, who I admitingly have never heard of before, in his first starring role. Owe is simple in his portrayal of Horten, and as such makes Horten, for all his character flaws, a very likable, and sweet man. Sort of like a grandfather figure, Horten is easy to like, unassuming, kind man, who just wants his privacy, and to look after his mother, an ex-ski jumper who now spends her life at a retirement home staring out a window. As the film progresses our insight into Horten grows, and by the time the film is completed we have a fairly good understanding of the man, but not a complete one.

That is where Hamer comes in. Hamer, for all his attempts to bring the audience in, keeps everyone at a distance, like the character Horten. While we get a good amount of insight, there's no real finality to the character, nor backstory to why he makes some of the decisions he makes. In fact the most we gain about him is in a one night friendship he has with a local Trygve Sissener (Espen Skjonberg). While this conversation is entertaining, in the end we find out we learned more about Trygve than our main character, which is a real shame.

Yet even if we accept some distance as part of the point, we're still left with a rather mundane execution. The movie is dark, taking place almost entirely at night, with lots of moments that are rather... well, odd. As such there's an intriguing flair of interpretation to it all, and we're still left guessing towards the end, as we allow our own hopes and pre-conceived notions of our main character take over. I won't go into detail for fear of spoilers, but I have to say, while I enjoyed my time, I was never overwhelmed, I never felt for the character, and as such I can't say I wanted to spend time trying to understand the film, and to interpret it.

Likable characters, scenes, and a great performance from Baard Owe make up for what is a generally mediocre film with high aspirations.

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