Film Review: ‘Odd’ oldster is unlikely hero of art film, 'O'Horten'


Bård Owe is protagonist Odd Horten in the deliberately slow-paced Norwegian film “O’Horten.” It opens this weekend exclusively at Malco’s Ridgeway Four.

Photo by Hans-Jorgan Osnes/Sony Pictures Classics

Bård Owe is protagonist Odd Horten in the deliberately slow-paced Norwegian film “O’Horten.” It opens this weekend exclusively at Malco’s Ridgeway Four.

Apparently, “Odd” is a common name for boys in Norway. In old Norse, it means “sharp,” as in the odd edge of an ax or sword.

Commonplace, yet with an edge — that’s a fairly accurate description of Odd Horten, the stoic, deadpan 67-year-old hero of “O’Horten,” a Norwegian gem of a film that opened this weekend at Malco’s Ridgeway Four.


Bård Owe is protagonist Odd Horten in the deliberately slow-paced Norwegian film “O’Horten.” It opens this weekend exclusively at Malco’s Ridgeway Four.

Photo by Hans-Jorgan Osnes/Sony Pictures Classics

Bård Owe is protagonist Odd Horten in the deliberately slow-paced Norwegian film “O’Horten.” It opens this weekend exclusively at Malco’s Ridgeway Four.

The English meaning of “odd” would be just as accurate. Writer-director Bent Hamer (returning to his native Norway after the lack of appreciation for his English-language debut, the Charles Bukowski-inspired “Factotum”) introduces us to Odd Horten on the eve of the man’s retirement after almost 40 years as an Oslo-based locomotive engineer. (The first words spoken in the film are these: “I hope we can avoid moose on the tracks tonight.”)

Horten has no wife or children; he is a cautious, even furtive man, and he spends much of the film hiding, to avoid confrontation (one scene finds him beneath a child’s bunk bed), or slipping away from a possible entanglement (in another scene, he leaves behind a dead man in a car). Yet he’s also resourceful: Confronted by a locked door, he clambers up a scaffold to gain access to a party he promised he’d attend, even though the party — a celebration of his retirement — doesn’t interest him at all.

“O’Horten” moves as deliberately and quietly as its pipe-puffing protagonist (beautifully played by Bård Owe), whose craggy, dignified face fascinates Hamer’s camera even more than the wintry Norwegian landscape or the icy nighttime Oslo streets. The movie’s unhurried, meandering, senior-citizen rhythm proves seductive — it’s like a cinematic rest cure for moviegoers who have been exposed to too many summer explosions and vulgar arrested adolescents.

Horten is an old man, which in itself makes him a rare movie hero, but Hamer reminds us that other things in the world are much more ancient; in one scene, Horten hefts a meteorite that predates the sun, and in another scene, Strindberg is quoted: “In due time, even the stars must fall.” No wonder the bright orb that hurtles toward the screen at the end of this charming movie is almost an optical illusion: It might be a rapidly approaching fiery meteor before we realize it’s literally the light at the end of the (railway) tunnel.

— John Beifuss: 529-2394

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