Directed by Bent Hamer
Written by Jorgen Bergmark, Bent Hamer
Starring Tomas Nordstrom, Joachim Calmeyer
One of the points of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is that an observer affects the actions of what he’s observing. But this applies to things in addition to nuclear physics: one of the first illustrative examples I read about it talked about a survey taker in a country with only one person. And it has never been better or more charmingly illustrated in Kitchen Stories.
The film is set in Norway in 1950. A few years earlier, Swedish scientists observed how Swedish women used their kitchens, observing them in order to find ways to make work easier. Now, Folk Nilsson (Tomas Nordstrom) is sent to Norway to gather data about men use their kitchens, notably the kitchen of Isak Bjorvik (Joachim Calmeyer). Nilsson’s rules are clear: observe and don’t interact with the subject. So he set up a lifeguard chair in Bjorvik’s kitchen, climbs up there each morning, and observes.
The concept is, of course, silly in the extreme. No one would ever think that anyone would grow used to having a guy in a tall chair watching him cook dinner, eat, set mousetraps, and go for a midnight snack. But the silliness is played very straight by the actors, and that’s the basis for the film’s success.
And, as should be obvious, the observer and observed slowly begin to interact.
This is a type of European-style comedy, where the humor comes from small, surprising, and extremely human reactions. There is little conversation* and everything is told via how the two characters start to react and change in each other’s presence. There are plenty of little laughs, and laughs for the best possible reason: it shows human beings reacting to life.
*A point most US audiences will miss is the fact that Nilsson speaks Swedish while Bjorvik speaks Norwegian. The languages are close enough for the other to understand, but they both stick to their own.