Review: ‘O Horten (2009, Hamer)


‘O Horten (2009, Hamer)

O’ Horten is the minimalist tale of a newly retired train driver and the overwhelming sense of wandering that immediately accumulates after 40 years of routine. Odd Horten (no reference to the English word odd however fitting it may seem) is a very withdrawn man who keeps to himself and to his routine. After a mishap involving his retirement party, Horten misses his last day of work. Instead he spends the day and night wandering around in a series of events that seem slightly out of order. His experiences are not the sort of extravagant events that a hypothetical Hollywood version of this story would place into the narrative. He visits his mother in a nursing home, he tries to sell his boat, he visits his tobacconist, he swims in a pool, he meets another elderly man who he strikes a quick friendship with, etc.

O’Horten is not going to be accessible for everyone but for those who are willing to give it try it works and had lots of charm without even really trying to have charm. It was funny without ever having any real jokes. Most of all its observational tone allows for a very touching film led by a fantastic and subdued lead performance by Bard Owe. His performance never feels like a one. The script only allows us to get inside his head a few times but the actor shows us through his facial expressions just how lost he is and how confused he is about what to do as an elderly retired person and how to face all of the changes that have taken place throughout his life. Another standout is Espen Skjonberg as Sissener, the elderly man he meets. He has already decided how to look at life and the slight extreme to which he takes things only ends up giving Horten yet another complication as to how to live.

Bent Hamer’s (best name ever) previous films include Kitchen Stories and Factotum, does a fantastic job of observing and telling the story through the silences and the contemplations. He keeps his distance and impresses many times with various aspects of the mise-en-scene. One aspect that comes to mind is the subtle but effective lighting at Sissener’s house. He has made a film about being old as opposed to the types of films we see a lot which are about getting old. The subtle jumble of chronological events is just enough to throw us off but also to convey the confusion of the main character. He has just gone from having a structured life to having no structure at all. This is a nicely told story that explores old age in a subtle, moving and slightly comic manner.

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