Kitchen Stories

Director: Lars Von Trier

Norway-Sweden| 2003. English subtitles. Colour. Dolby digital stereo. 92 minutes.

This seriously offbeat Norwegian film from director Bent Hamer really gets under our skin with its inventive examination of solitude and friendship. Folke (Tomas Norstrom) is a Swede working for the Home Research Institute on a late 1940s project to create the perfect kitchen. After finalising their data on Norwegian housewives, they turn their attention to single men, and Folke is assigned to watch Isak (Joachim Calmeyer), a stuck-in-his-ways hermit in an isolated village. Folke lives in a tiny caravan trailer outside, then spends his days on a stilt-chair in the corner of Isak’s kitchen, documenting his every move. The two aren’t supposed to interact at all, but their respective loneliness wears them down and soon they become close friends, threatening both Isak’s jealous neighbour and Folke’s job. There’s an almost wordless charm to this gentle film as these two men slowly thaw out, spying on each other and offering peace tokens like tobacco and coffee like some missionary in a remote jungle tribe. Yes, it’s hilariously absurd as it traces the little battles between the characters, all of which establish the various liaisons and rivalries.
Clever performances and witty direction make this work. An inspired production design helps as well, with a careful eye for colour and post-war motifs that are both modern and kitsch. Meanwhile, the story has a subtext-Sweden was a neutral observer in WW2, which strained Swedish-Norwegian relations. Details add both humour and meaning, like the fact that at the time Sweden was still driving on the left side of the road. And as Isak and Folke discover that they can never understand someone by merely observing them, the film takes on a more universal emotional resonance. It’s a thoroughly engaging film with characters we like more and more as we get to know them.

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