This uniquely eccentric comedy about a spurious scientific study of men's
kitchen behavior has little to say about that but leaves an indelible
impression about social affinity and relationships. Set in the wintry climes
of Norway, it slyly pokes fun at how wrong-headed researchers can become when
they go off on a theoretical tangent.
It's based on a project by the Home Research Institute in Sweden to map and
analyze the presupposed inefficiency of male bachelors in their kitchens,
so that it might be compared to the findings of a previous study on women.
The misguided notion behind it was the belief that they could shape society
with reason and logic. To do so, they send out a team of observers to set up
stations in the kitchens of volunteers in order to prove their theory.
Izak (Joachim Calmeyer) volunteered because he thought the horse promised to
him as recompense for his discomforts would be a real one. Only the
greatness of his need, because the one he has is dying, would make him
amenable to the outlandish idea of having a perfect stranger sit and watch
him as he prepares meals.
The disappointment of finding a toy horse outside his front door doesn't
exactly inspire him to live up to the contract he signed and, for days, he
refuses to acknowledge the man outside who wants to come in and do the
observing. Add to that the impression that he's a generally grumpy
individualist who doesn't suffer fools gladly.
But, researcher Folke Nillson (Tomas Norstrom) is not a man to give up easily.
His very job requires persistence and a scientist's cool objectivity.
Finally, after days of waiting and cajoling, the door opens. He quickly sets
up his observation chair, a high one like that of a tennis umpire's, in a
corner of the kitchen, with his room maps and observation forms at the
The rules, however, are strict: no personal interraction with the subject.
No becoming engaged in conversation, nor any reliance upon his host for
anything. The researcher must attend to his needs completely independently.
For this purpose, his small oval trailer is parked outside the farmhouse
where he eats and sleeps.
But such objective distance within the confines of one room can't last
forever, and the study we actually witness is in how long it takes to have
the rules compromised until they collapse and break down by the inevitable
need of people to communicate. The wry humor behind it is in the specific
steps in the evolution of social attraction. Director Bent Hamer working
from a script he wrote with Jorgen Bergmark, establishes satiric pleasure in
bringing reluctant subject and determined observer from awkward strangers to
a bond of mutual respect. It's a process of considerable restraint, making
much of gravitation toward natural impulses.
Both actors are adept at the blank expression and deadpan reactions; both are
leading exponents of their country's talent. Calmeyer, the hermetical
bachelor subject, is one of Norway's most acclaimed actors with a classic as
well as a TV background. Bjorn Floberg plays the zealous project overseer
(the "bad guy" of the piece) with officious correctness and the right
dedication. Malmberg (Reine Brynolfsson), Izak's neighbor, plays the most
outwardly emotional part as the jealous buddy being supplanted by the new guy
in his pal's affections.
This sweet, understated comedy-drama, based on taking a laugh at the
commercially motivated scientific overkill and Swedish mentality during the
1950s, is Norway's official entry for the motion picture academy's Best
Foreign Language Film award of 2003. But, however it turns out there, it's
already a winner, having been picked up for theatrical release in the U.S.,
not exactly a slam dunk for most foreign language entrants.
If you liked the expresionless humor of "Man Without a Past", it's right up your funny bone.
~~ Jules Brenner