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Posted by Aaron West, 3/8/04

Kitchen Stories
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 of way.

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 joyful experience.

Score: 9/10