|Espen Skjønberg||Trygve Sissener|
|Baard Owe||Odd Horten|
|Githa Nørby||Fru Thøgersen|
|Kai Remlov||Steiner Sissener|
|Bjørn Jenseg||Valkyrijen Waiter|
|Directed by||Bent Hamer|
The first line of dialogue hints deliciously at dark mayhem to come.
"I hope we can avoid moose on the tracks tonight," says a train's deputy engineer. "I still have blood on my jacket. It doesn't come out"
But that’s it for blood and guts. The rest of this deadpan comedy is cool as Norwegian winter, and manages to avoid carnage despite a scene of inadvertent breaking and entering, and a drive through Oslo with a blindfolded man at the wheel.
Horten (Baard Owe) is an engineer on the Oslo-Bergen run. There is something odd about him, and it's not just his name, which is Odd. Odd is apparently a fairly common Norwegian name, but one which writer-director Bent Hamer (himself no stranger to monikers with curious Anglicizations) surely chose with an eye to its translation value. And as for the Irish cast laid on the film's title by the substitution of an apostrophe for the more conventional period in the name O. Horten, that's a mystery above this reviewer's pay grade.
Odd Horten has reached the railroad's mandatory retirement age of 67. For 40 years he has driven his train back and forth between Oslo and Bergen, enjoying the domestic companionship of Mrs. Thøgersen (Ghita Nørby), a lovely pale widow who warms his food and his bed at the Bergen end of the run. But now he is making his last trip, and Mrs. Thøgersen wonders wistfully whether she will ever see him again.
Horten doesn’t seem to have given much thought to what he will do once he leaves behind the reassuring predictability of the parallel steel rails that have defined most of his adult life. He doesn't reassure the widow with a hearty "Now we can see Paris," he merely mutters vaguely that who knows, maybe he'll get up this way again.
His fellow railroad men give him a testimonial dinner. They present him with a silver locomotive trophy for his years of service, they play train trivia, and perform a ritual locomotive chant of chug-chug-whoo-whoo! that is as endearing as anything you will see on the screen this year. And they coax him into coming along to a party to toast his retirement. But he arrives late, can't get into the building, scales some scaffolding, climbs through a window into the wrong apartment, and, well, it's just one thing after another. He oversleeps, arrives late at the station, and misses his final run.
Horten's whole life has been trains. His small bachelor's apartment is right by the tracks, and he can watch the trains rattle by as he irons a pair of pants or sips a cup of tea. At 67 he's still a fine figure of a man, dapper in his engineer's uniform, with a pipe planted firmly in the lower region of his long horsey face. But what now to do with the rest of his life? He has a beloved boat which, unaccountably with the new leisure time at his disposal, he has decided to sell.
Horten has never been a bold soul. His mother, who is now in a nursing home and silenced by a stroke, was in her youth a champion ski jumper. He disappointed her, and perhaps himself, by never having the guts to strap on the skis and soar trackless through the sky.
As he negotiates the unfamiliar territory of life beyond the Oslo-Bergen commute, Horten finds himself drawn into a series of gently funny vignettes, which take place over the course of a long, slightly surrealistic night. He's not a jerk or a clown, but odd things happen to him. Unfamiliar with airports, he finds himself out in the middle of the tarmac, puffing on his pipe, and is hauled in for a brief shakedown by the authorities as a suspected terrorist. He goes into the tobacconist he has patronized for many years, and finds the owner's newly-minted widow behind the counter. "Death is part of life," she tells Horten with a brave smile. Much of the time you aren't quite sure what's going on, but you have the feeling he isn't either.
The critical event of this long night's journey into day is his meeting with an old drunk he helps up from the pavement. The man reveals himself to be Trygve Sissener (Espen Skjønberg), a diplomat with a fine house and a taste for primitive weapons ("But then," he points out, "all weapons are primitive.") He tells Horten that "Ever since I was young I have been able to see with my eyes closed," and talks him into coming along on a joyride through the nighttime streets of Oslo as he drives with a ski hat pulled down over his eyes. Though the drive ends unexpectedly, it's a liberating experience for the engineer who has spent his life on tracks that stretched unvaryingly through a frozen landscape.
Hamer, whose last venture was the Charles Bukowski story Factotum, here creates a quirky, beguiling, and very funny mood piece that reflects on age, adventure, uncertainty, and humanity. Cinematographer John Christian Rosenlund paints some beautiful pictures, and Owe gives the character of Horten an off-center dignity that will suggest comparisons to Jacques Tati and Buster Keaton, and his journey toward self-discovery is funny, oddly endearing, and nicely off the rails.
© Text 2009 Jonathan Richards - Filmfreak.be