Format: Cinema

Date: 8 May 2009

Distributor: Artificial Eye

Venues: Curzon Soho, Ritzy, Screen on the Green (London) and key cities

Director: Bent Hamer

Writer: Bent Hamer

Cast: Bí¥rd Owe, Espen Skjí¸nberg, Ghita Ní¸rby, Henny Moan

Norway 2007

86 mins

I think I understand this film. Not that it’s difficult, but I think that there is something to ‘get’ about the film.

It is a film about Odd Horten. A taciturn train driver who has just retired. It is obviously a film about old age and death. That is what the narrative is about. But the literal depiction of this subject is embedded in its metaphorical and symbolic representation. The things that are done and said are not just things that occur in a few days of an old man’s life: they poetically express his human condition.

It is all over for him. He sits quietly amid fun and noise. He gets left behind. He gets stuck. He is late, he is missing, he escapes, he can’t be contacted. He gets shut in. He casts off his possessions. He puts the cloth over his canary’s cage. He is alone and in the dark.

He meets another old man. This man is lying in the snow. Odd goes to where he lives, in a dark place full of ice and strange things from other places in the past. This man shows him something very old, and tells him that though it has come to rest, its journey is not over. Odd accompanies him as he goes blindly on a last journey.

Finally, Odd sees someone from his own past. He takes a leap into the unknown. And he is reunited with someone who thought she wouldn’t see him again.

Here are a few things that the film is not:

It’s not weird, contrived, or surreal. All these events happen plainly, gently. The mood is sombre but not grim. Sad but not depressing. Melancholy but not maudlin. Slow but not boring. A cliché would be ‘bittersweet’, but in fact it’s better for being neither bitter nor sweet. It looks unblinkingly at some of the most difficult things in life without ever dipping into the sentimental.

Here are some reasons to see the film:

It looks beautiful. It shows a dignified, old-fashioned side of Norwegian urban life, set off against the gleaming winter landscape that surrounds it, and the svelte iron machines that master that landscape.

It sounds beautiful. The Norwegian dialogue is a delight for an Anglophone to listen to, with its pleasing resemblance to a quaint form of English (for instance someone who ski-jumps appear to be a ‘hopper’). And there is a suitably icy soundtrack featuring glockenspiel and pedal steel.

It is about age, loss, and death, and it reflects on these things in a calm, quiet way.

Peter Momtchiloff