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REVIEW: O'Horten

By Philip Martin

This article was published August 21, 2009 at 4:58 a.m.


Odd Horten (Baard Owe) finds himself facing mandatory retirement in Norwegian writer-director Bent Hamer's dry and whimsical O'Horten.

— Written, directed and produced by Bent Hamer, O'Horten is a delicate, deadpan comedy that may confound audiences acclimatized to rougher, louder work. It also has a plot synopsis guaranteed to keep fans of X Games 3Daway in droves-it's about a train engineer facing mandatory retirement at the age of 67.

Odd Horten (Baard Owe) is the engineer in question; despite his name - which in Norway is pretty common - he's a sufficiently ordinary type, a quiet bachelor of regular habits who lives alone with his parakeet. He seems to have few worries, apart from the occasional encounter with an oblivious moose showing up on the tracks. He has a platonic relationship with a woman who runs the hotel where his run terminates. He likes his pipe.

But now, he's on the precipice of major change. His fellow engineers, a similarly distracted, benign lot, present him with a silver locomotive and bid him a happy retirement. And they persuade him to alter his routine, and accompany him to the local pub for a party in his honor.

This disruption of O'Horten's schedule sets him off on a folly of his own, an adventure that's reminiscent of Griffin Dunne's peregrinations in After Hours (1985), had that dark film been directed not by Martin Scorsese, but by Icelandic auteur Baltasar Kormakur. On Xanax.

While Dunn's character sank into an increasingly horrific Manhattan evening, O'Horten experiences a serendipitous walkabout that brings him into contact with a number of weirdly charming people, including a sleep-deprived child and a clutch of confounded airport security who don't quite know how to receive the old railroader.

Hamer, a Norwegian who made 2006's Factotum, which starred Matt Dillon as Charles Bukowski's alter-ego Hank Chinaski, has a droll, subtle style that quiets his movie like a blanket of snow. His Oslo is a worn but appealing place, his Europe is calm and slow.

O'Horten is a fable that relies less on fantastical transport than the defrosting of cool faculties; less on the titillation of the senses than the thawing of frozen hearts.

MovieStyle, Pages 33, 38 on 08/21/2009


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