Kitchen Stories (Salmer fra Kjøkkenet) Made in: Sweden, Norway Language: Swedish, Norwegian Director: Bent Hamer Starring: Joachim Calmeyer, Tomas Norström, Reine Brynolfsson, Bjørn Floberg Year: 2003
Synopsis: In post-World War II Scandinavia, a group of Swedish scientists travel to a small town in Norway to study the kitchen habits of Norwegian bachelors. Folke Nilsson (Tomas Norström), one of the observers, is assigned to observe Isak Bjørvik (Jachim Calmeyer).
Seated in a high, umpire-like chair in the corner of Isak's kitchen, Folke is to note his host's every move but is strictly forbidden from interacting with him socially in any way. And every few days, Folke's boss, a guy named Dr. Malmberg (Reine Brynolfsson), checks in to review all collected data.
The situation is extremely awkward, since Isak spends very little time in his own kitchen and never does much of anything. But one day, Folke and Isak break the #1 rule and begin speaking to each other. And from there, an unexpected and close friendship develops between the two men.
The Good: Kitchen Stories is a simple movie full of clever humor and subtleties, with the commentary on friendship told mainly through action and facial expressions rather than words. Particularly effective are the scenes without dialog, and how the act of taking science too seriously ironically ends up being very funny.
The cast is made up of very real-looking people, with Tomas Norström and Joachim Calmeyer carrying the film as solid character actors. And the underlying themes dealing with post World War II Norway and cross-cultural issues (although a little over my head) seemed to be seamlessly woven in.
The Bad: The beginning is a little slow, and for a while it's a little hard to distinguish the important characters from each other because they all dress the same and wear hats.
Who would like this movie: Kitchen Stories is for you if you've already had a lot of experience with foreign films, or are regularly exposed to foreign cultures to some capacity. This is by no means one of those "weird" foreign movies that have turned off many curious filmgoers, but it is very slow paced and will be different than most conventional comedies seen at the local cineplex.
And if you have a lot of knowledge of Scandinavian culture, language, and history, you'll obviously be in a better position to understand the humor as well as the more subtle subtexts. I imagine that those interested Norwegian or Swedish film and/or languages will also have an easier time appreciating the cross-cultural jokes.
Overall, Kitchen Stories is an amusing, meaningful movie that I'd recommend for you if you're making a conscious effort to explore films that you aren't regularly used to watching.