Thursday, November 12, 2009

Film Flash Friday: O'Horten

Film is a medium that I turn to again and again when I need a refresher course in the art of subtlety. The range of emotions that can be captured on film is extraordinary. A single blind of the eye lid can take up an entire screen, and it is so often the smallest gestures and expressions that govern human interactions. O'Horten is a film defined by the subtle. Baard Owe plays Odd Horten, a man who lives his life by a schedule. He is the captain of his ship, in this case a train which he maneuvers through vast tracks of barren, snow covered land to the epicenters activity. From the ease that Horten feels behind the "wheel" of the train, one gather's that it is precisely that solitude that Horten values in his daily travels and that any break in that, such as a talkative co-pilot, interjects personal interactions with people that Horten tries to avoid. Owe plays his character as not so much aloof, but as a man who enjoys feeling comfortable in a small, contained environment. However, Horten's carefully pruned life is about to be turned into something unpredictable and ultimately unmanageable with the coming of his retirement. All of this happens, subtly, of course.

At an event honoring Horten's years of service, while the other train engineers seem at ease and sociable, Horten sits uncomfortably, eyes averted, waiting for the focus of attention to shift. He is a man who prefers to be an observer not the observed. The final realization of the control over his life that he is losing comes about when he misses his last train, his last chance to cling to his "normal" way of life. He goes into depression, and though Horten has never been a talkative character his demeanor changes. He becomes more and more like a confused old mariner who suddenly finds himself without a ship. For Horten to break free of his inability move into the present and leave the past behind he must first face someone he has hard time coming to terms with, his mother. The scene where Horten talks to his mother in the nursing home is one of the few scenes where he has the most consistent dialogue, even though his mother remains unresponsive. One wonders if despite old age and possible illness, if his mother was even more reserved than Horten. Is this perhaps where Horten gets it from? Owe's performance in that scene is particularly interesting because he becomes almost like a little boy seeking acknowledgment from his mom. He acts completely engaged, as if he is expecting a response from her at any moment, and eventually, when he mentions her ski's he gets a smile, but one wonders if he even was able to glimpse it from where he was standing. The movie progresses with Horten becoming less and less an observer and instead more of an awkward participant in various interactions, and it is those interactions (and Horten's subsequent reactions) that make O'Horten a very satisfying movie, and a great reminder that amazing acting performances happen all across the globe--even if in the most subtle ways.

Directed, Written, Produced by: Bent Hamer--Release Date: December 26 2007--Rating: PG-13--Language: Norwegian

Much Better Reviews Can Be Found Below:
The New York Times
Roger Ebert
Los Angeles Times

More Information on the Film Can Be Found At:
Internet Movie Database (IMDB)

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