Kitchen Stories

Kitchen Stories
A film by Bent Hamer

I thoroughly enjoyed this bittersweet, multi-layered gem of a film from Bent Hamer. This Norwegian comedy/drama spoken in Norwegian with English subtitles was an easy film to follow since so much of the story had deep non verbal communication. This quirky, deadpan, warm, sensitive, film shows how the austere rules laid out on paper are softened by the human need to communicate.

The Story

19 observers on their way to observe

During the post-war period, experts of house and home found out that simply by organizing the kitchen's workstations properly, based on the assembly-line layout of factories, the financial benefits for a household could be enormous. Or, as a Swedish ad for the new ideal kitchen put it: instead of a housewife having to walk the equivalent of Sweden to the Congo during a year of cooking, she now only needs to walk to northern Italy in order to get food on the table.

After thoroughly mapping the Swedish housewife's behavior in the kitchen, scientists at the Home Research Institute in Sweden felt ready to venture beyond their own geographic and gender-based limitations. In the early '50s they send 18 observers to the rural district of Landstad, Norway, with its surplus of bachelors, to study the kitchen routines of single men.

In order to be on 24-hour call, the observers will live in egg-shaped campers outside each subject's house. From high, custom-made observation chairs strategically placed in each kitchen, few activities will escape this new science. The observers must be allowed to come and go as they please, and under no circumstances must they be spoken to or included in kitchen activities...

Being observed

As you can imagine this scenario lends itself to many unexpected, natural human behaviors, the observer becoming the observed, touching interactions, laughter and tears. There are no women in the film, just the study of men and their bachelor behavior. I don't want to tell too much so you will have to go to see it yourself to learn more.

Kitchen Stories has been nomination as Best Foreign Language Film for the Oscars this year as well as being selected as Norway's 2004 Oscar candidate. Tomas Norström plays Folke as the shy, sweet scientist and Joachim Calmeyer plays the gruff elderly farmer Isak he's observing make an endearing odd couple, the funny center to Bent Hamer's satire on the importance of communication in the fight against scientific rationalization of the soul.
Kitchen Stories was co-written and directed 

Director Bent Hamer

by  Hamer (in collaboration with co-scriptwriter Jorgen Bergmark) The idea of the film came to its co-writer and director, Bent Hamer, after he found some books in a flea market full of post-war scientific findings on the most efficient way for women to do housework.
The Swedish Home Research Institute's laboratories did research into how best to organize kitchen workstations.
They had concluded: "Instead of a housewife having to walk the equivalent of Sweden to the Congo during a year of cooking, she now only needs to walk to northern Italy to get food on the table."
Hamer told BBC News Online: "I'd seen books like these 25 years ago and they really made me laugh, especially all the detailed diagrams.

The film is a bizarre take on 1950s Norway
"After finding the books again the idea came to me - what if a study had been done on men - in particular bachelors?"
"The film was challenging to make because on the surface it was very serious, with the men barely speaking to each other - but the seriousness of the situation helped create the humour," Norwegian-born Hamer said.
He added he had chosen to cast only men in the film "because it was easier - besides, if there had been women playing observers in the film it would have added a sexual dimension, and I didn't want that".

Actor Tomas Norstr

Swedish actor Tomas Norstrom, who plays Folke, said he jumped at the role because "I could see the humor in it, and it is seldom you read a script like this".
His co-star Joachim Calmeyer, who plays Isak, agreed.
"I'm also old enough to remember the 1950s and the film captured the era so well - I fell in love with the script," said Calmeyer, who has been given the Norwegian equivalent of a knighthood for his contribution to acting.
Both men said the film had initially been difficult to make, with Norstrom adding: "It's challenging to feel safe and secure in front of the camera when you appear to be doing

Actor Joachim Calmeyer

"You just had to trust the situation," said Calmeyer. "It was all a matter of getting the timing right."


Directed by: Bent Hamer
Written by: Bent Hamer, Jörgen Bergmark
With: Bjørn Floberg, Joachim Calmeyer, Tomas Norström
Country: Norway, Sweden
Year of Production: 2003
Running Time: 95 minutes
Distributor: IFC Films

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