Kitchen Stories (review)
In the early 1950s, Sweden’s Home Research Institute, having scientifically assessed the movements of Scandinavian housewives in the kitchen, decided to study the household habits of bachelor men. Actually, no: the HRI doesn’t really exist, except in Bent Hamer’s winsome and touching film. Winner of Norway’s highest award for feature films, this is a delightfully off-kilter and refreshingly original tale about loneliness, friendship, and modern appliances. The researchers, one per bachelor, live in hilariously tiny, round trailers outside — sad and funny little microcosms of bachelor life themselves — and sit in the target kitchens in their high, tennis-ref chairs, the better to observe without any of that unscientific interacting and undue influence on the observee. That’s the plan, anyway. One imagines that a busy wife and mother would simply be too busy to pay much mind to the silly man in the corner taking notes on her trips between the stove and the sink, but prickly farmer Isak (Joachim Calmeyer) has plenty of time to throw glares at unassuming researcher Folke (Tomas Norström). Hamer — who directed as well as cowrote the script, with Jörgen Bergmark — has a delicate appreciation of the unspoken ways in which men communicate with each other, and he shows us, with a modest, tender eye, the growing friendship between Isak and Folke, their boxed-up 50s repression thawing and the cold, scientific distance becoming impossible to maintain. The Swedish housewife may walk the distance between Scandinavia and the Congo every year in her own kitchen, or so the HRI informs us, but hardly anything moves here, until the final moment, when a teacup is placed on a table, and a big lump jumps into your throat. In case you’ve ever had any doubt, this treasure of film will remind you that the kitchen is the warmest room in the house.