In a bid to assist with the designs of kitchens, Sweden's Home Research Institute devises a plan to study bachelors living alone in 50s Norway. Swedish scientist Folke Nilsson (Tomas Norström) is one of a team sent to Norway to a remote town, and is instructed to observe local volunteer Isak Bjornsson (Joachim Calmeyer), as he goes about his daily routine in the kitchen. Folke lives in a caravan outside Isak's house at night; by day, he sits in an umpire-like high chair in the corner of the kitchen, jotting down notes on a clipboard. But Isak quickly resents Folke's presence and begins to spy on him through a peep-hole in his attic. Although they have been instructed not to communicate or interact in any way, the two elderly men begin a friendship.
Review by Louise Keller:
Original and quirky, Kitchen Stories is as subtle as it is charming, as it explores a bitter-sweet relationship between two men thrown together in unusual circumstances. The aim is to improve kitchen design for the single male, and Bent Hamer and Jörgen Bergmark's concept could well be a social essay on communication. This is wry, satirical humour at its best, and is never overplayed. The pace is leisurely; the pay off is in the detail.
One of the film's joys is that we, like Folke, arrive in the small rural town covered in a blanket of snow, with no notion of what is to happen. He drives his car in convoy with a mushroom-like trailer tagging behind, and we understand his reluctance to take his position, dressed in a suit and tie (minus shoes) perched high above his 'host' in the corner of his kitchen. It is indeed a ridiculous situation, and both men are aware of it. At first not a word is spoken, but it's an awkward silence: Folke observes Isak, and Isak is too self-conscious to behave normally. (This is definitely not Big Brother!) Isak has a portable stove and elects to cook in his bedroom, leaving only the aromas of his cooking to waft down the stairs. When he leaves the kitchen, he pointedly switches off the light, leaving Folke symbolically in the dark. Long johns hanging on a make-shift clothes line in the kitchen is another tactic in an attempt to hide. It is not long before Isak drills a small hole above Folke's chair and peeps defiantly at his observer from his attic bedroom.
Things slowly begin to change as the door to communication opens. Folke offers Isak tobacco for his pipe; Isak offers Folke a cup of coffee. And so begins their friendship. They chat about all kinds of things. I will be having a bath next week, Isak warns Folke, and the bathtub scene is one you will not forget. We cannot believe our eyes as Isak climbs out of the metal bathtub, showing Folke how he listens to radio waves through the silver fillings in his teeth. But there are many such scenes that defy explanation waiting to be discovered.
The performances are rich and understated. The scenes are short and we need to watch and listen carefully so as not to miss anything. This is a story about the exterior and the interior. Everything outside looks serene - fir trees with snow-tips surrounded by an eternity of crisp white snow - but the film's undercurrent reveals otherwise. And like real life, the film does not lead where we expect - there are enough surprises to knock us off balance, and leave us intrigued.
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KITCHEN STORIES (PG)
Salmer fra kjøkkenet
CAST: Joachim Calmeyer, Tomas Norström, Bjørn Floberg, Reine Brynolfsson, Sverre Anker Ousdal, Leif Andrée, Gard B. Eidsvold, Lennart Jähkel
PRODUCER: Bent Hamer, Jörgen Bergmark
DIRECTOR: Bent Hamer
SCRIPT: Bent Hamer, Jörgen Bergmark
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Philip Øgaard
EDITOR: Pål Gengenbach
MUSIC: Hans Mathisen
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Billy Johansson
RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Palace
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Melbourne: November 4, 2004; Adelaide: November 18, 2004; Sydney: November 25, 2004; Brisbane: December 2, 2004
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Home Entertainment
VIDEO RELEASE: April 20, 2005