Friday, August 01, 2008

O’Horten (Bent Hamer, 2007)

Bent Hamer’s O’Horten is an amiable but inescapably inconsequential character study that shows considerable indebtedness to, but little understanding of, the work of deadpan cynic Aki Kaurismaki. Relaxed to the point of somnambulism, Hamer’s stylized rumination on aging and death lacks most of the satiric bite that one would expect from one of Kaurismaki’s movies. As a result, even though he largely apes that Finn’s style, Hamer can’t turn his droll musings into a pervasive worldview. O’Horten feels small and sequestered from any real ambition. It is perfectly adequate, but perfectly forgettable; the kind of film that you spend admiring how visually crisp and clean it looks, but find yourself unable to recall more than a shot or two when it’s over.

Focusing on a Norwegian train operator about to begin life as a retiree, the film adopts a low-key and slow-paced style from the outset. With its protagonist played by aged actor Bard Owe in a laconic manner, it’s a quiet movie, with long bouts of silence that are only occasionally punctuated by spare dialogue or flourishes from the soundtrack. The tone is generally one of quiet awe or mild bemusement as O’Horten wanders aimlessly through the long nights that dominate his newly directionless life. Taken off the train tracks he has been so devoted to, it seems he has no idea where to go next. Though Hamer aims for a light touch with his directorial choices and droll script, the formula repeated throughout the movie, in which O’Horten consistently becomes some sort of benevolent presence in the lives of a group of strangers, is cumbersome enough to erase any impression of subtlety. After a while, the expectation of this formula and anticipation of non-incident overrides any surprise that the movie can generate. Too cute by half, filled with myriad forced moments of magic, O’Horten attempts to cast a nuanced spell, but ends up making rather little impression at all.

Rating: 42/100

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