Posted by Aaron West, 3/8/04
Directed by Bent Hamer
Starring Joachim Calmeyer, Tomas Nordstrom, Bjorn Floberg
Running Time: 92 minutes
Stories of simple men, forced together due to interesting
circumstances are nothing new to motion pictures. The "buddy
film" has been reinvented repeatedly, and we can be certain
that it will continue to do so. Every so often, however,
a director comes up with a unique way of putting two people
together. In the case of Bent Hamer's Kitchen Stories, strange
humor is used as the vehicle to great effect.
Kitchen Stories is about the conflict between technology
and tradition. Scientists and other self-appointed idealists
are always thinking of ways to reduce the amount of time
spent performing trivial tasks. A Swedish scientist decides
that he will revolutionalize and streamline the way people
use their kitchens. He conducts studies to document what
people do in the kitchen, and with that data he promises
to solve the problem and offer an efficient alternative.
The subjects for these studies are Northern Norweigan bachelors.
Yes, this is where the absurdity begins. Each subject is
appointed an observer, who spends most of their time in
the kitchen, documenting every activity in the room. When
finished for the day, they take shelter in a trailer outside
of the house. Their role is strictly to observe and they
are not supposed to interfere, or even speak to their subjects.
This is where the two main characters come in. Isak is
a lonely bachelor who signed up for the program because
he was promised a horse, which turned out to be a miniature
horse. He resents the program and tries to circumvent the
process by tricking his observer into thinking he doesn't
use his kitchen. Eventually, Isak and Folke, the Swedish
observer, begin a strange relationship with each other;
one that could be detrimental to the program.
Kitchen Stories works because of its unique brand of humor
that defies both convention and reason. It ranges from hypocrisy,
to cynicism, to downright absurdity, but it is constantly
effective. The absurd nature of the characters and the oddity
of their situation make them likeable, in a curious sort
Hamer's styling has also made the film a joy to watch.
He frames each shot with expertise and creativity, so that
each scene is interesting and different, even though the
set design rarely changes.
The film also functions as a definitive statement about
technology, and how the pursuit of advancement, however
beneficial, is impersonal and often a detriment to the value
of a simple life. The film portrays the nature of scientists
in a negative light, and perhaps as their being a little
pompous. Who gives these select few men of learning the
right to speak for the lives those they do not understand?
Hamer also criticizes technology as sometimes being unrealistic,
short sighted, and often wrong.
Some could see the film as being overly slow, and it is
certainly not for those who are short on patience. However
slow, the humor and quirkiness carries the audience through
the narrative. The unconventional narrative methods used
in Kitchen Stories could also easily isolate the audience,
but instead these nuances reel them in and provide a curiously