Monday, 15 November 2010

LEEDS FILM FEST REVIEW: Kitchen Stories


A beautiful heart-warming tale from the snows of Norway, and one of my favourites of the film festival so far.

Kitchen Stories begins really slowly introducing the audience to the research study the Swedish scientists are undertaking into the movements of single men in their kitchens. It’s done in a rather vague and detached way and apart from the odd jibe between the men about their Scandinavian neighbours (on both sides) you’re so busy trying to take everything in you’re not paying attention to why they’re conducting this survey and what its purpose is. If this sounds an odd premise for a film I beg you to look past the first 15 minutes and ignore the blurb. It’s not about the research at all, and once the main characters settle on screen the film really begins to flourish.

One of the scientists, Folke, is assigned his newest ‘host’: a bad tempered and unfriendly old man called Isak who lives in Norway. As part of the study he has to sit in an elevated chair in the corner of the kitchen, akin to a lifeguard looking over a swimming pool, and it’s quirky touches like this that bring the laughs and slowly, as you watch these two men interact with one another, you find yourself involved with their lives. It sort of reminded me of The Lives of Others but with more of a domesticated sitcom vibe.

At first Isak is resistant to having this strange man in his house observing him from on high, and starts sneakily cooking his meals upstairs in his bedroom and watching him from a hole in the ceiling. As well as the invasion, there is also the general needling undercurrent of post-war politics and divisions between Sweden and Norway. But as time goes on the two men begin to adjust to one another and the barriers are broken after Folke lends the old man some of his tobacco after he finds his stash empty. Isak we have learned, is a lonely man with no family and only two friends in the world – a man called Grant who occasionally calls round for coffee and a haircut, and his horse who is very poorly and causing Isak a lot of upset. Having now found a common ground with Folke, he begins to open up and more and more Folke is coming down from his perch to sit and laugh with the old man at his table. Isak becomes almost tender towards Folke, who too is a lonely soul without family. But soon Folke’s supervisor starts to become suspicious (hosts are not allowed to speak to the researchers and definitely not permitted to socialise) and Folke’s time with the old man is threatened.

I won’t say anymore and hopefully that’s enough to entice you in. It’s a few years old now (2003) so available to watch on DVD. The humour is dry, visual, delightful and funny events are often off-set by a moment of genuine affection by a character that further cements your routing for this unlikely but yet necessary friendship and its continuation. The kidnapping of Folke by a jealous Grant is one of the highlights of the film. I loved both the leads and unashamedly say I grew very attached to them – fine performances all round.

A surprise this one, as I wasn’t expecting very much before going in. But this strengthens my feeling that Scandinavia is a hotbed for sweet, unassuming and touching comedies and if you’ve yet to discover this fact yourself, start with a watch of Kitchen Stories.

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