KITCHEN STORIES

 (Salmer fra kjøkkenet)

Directed by Bent Hamer. Sweden. 2003.


Talking Pictures alias talkingpix.co.uk
 
 


 
 

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As a result of a study in the 1950s in which efficiency experts at the Home Research Institute observed the kitchen habits of Swedish housewives to come up with a better workspace design, 18 men are transported in caravans to farms in Norway to observe the cooking habits of Norwegian single men. Kitchen Stories, a quirky comedy co-written by Swedish director Bent Hamer and Norway's Jorgen Bergmark, depicts the relationship between two elderly single men, a relationship in which the observer ends up being the observed. The film has the same deadpan humour and offbeat characters as one directed by Aki Kaurismaki, but without the Finnish director's overbearing self-consciousness. 

As the caravans approach, the scientists wear white lab coats and carry clipboards, seemingly poised for an ET-like invasion. The observers, however, must live outside the homes of their subjects in small trailers and are not allowed to talk, drink, or otherwise interact with their subjects. Some, however, are not willing subjects. One of the scientists, Folke, a Swede (Tomas Norström), draws Isak (Joachim Calmeyer), an antisocial Norwegian farmer used to living in solitude. Isak at first refuses to let Folke into his house, resentful that the horse he was promised in return for his participation turned out to be a figurine. Folke, however, eventually gains access to the kitchen and sits every day perched in his high observation chair, recording Isak's every movement like the Lord High Executioner until Isak decides to take his hot plate up to his bedroom to frustrate his unwelcome guest. 

The sly Isak drills a hole through the upstairs bedroom floor and now secretly watches Folke in the kitchen. When they start conversing, each man insists on speaking his own language (not shown by the subtitles) as if to doggedly maintain their separate identities. Gradually they become friends, breaking through the barriers in their life that have imposed a limiting solitude. They begin first by drinking coffee in the morning, sharing a bit of their background, and then celebrating Isak's birthday with cake and bourbon whiskey. Their interaction, of course, is against the rules of the workplace and there are consequences for Folke. His life, however, acquires new meaning the more willing he is to take risks and share himself openly. Kitchen Stories is a small film but one that is warmhearted and thoroughly enjoyable, a work that celebrates the small pleasures in just being alive without trying to be profound or seduce us with blatant emotional appeals.

Howard Schumann
 
 
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