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By D.W. Smith | February 4, 2004

Did you know that the Swedes did extensive research in the 1950s on how the average Swedish housewife used her kitchen? Yeah, me neither. They collected data in order to create a more efficient kitchen and, thus, a more efficient society. This is the starting point that Norwegian filmmaker Bent Hamer has chosen for his newest film “Kitchen Stories.” Hamer explores what might have happened if the Home Research Institute of Sweden had taken their act on the road to study the kitchen habits of single males in Norway. The result is quite a nice little film.

In Hamer’s version, 18 observers are sent out to document the habits of actual men in their actual kitchens, living outside the houses in little green trailers, on 24-hour call. The observers have been instructed not to interact with their host in any way. The story focuses on one particular relationship between a lonely observer and his lonely host. At first, the host, Isak, has regrets and won’t even let Folke, the observer, into the house, but once Folke is in, and has set up his high tennis-referee chair in the corner of the kitchen, the ice begins to melt. If you’re one of those low-brows who can’t get past subtitles, well, your in luck because much of the humor is visual, hence universal, as is the story. Director Hamer shows he possesses one of the most necessary qualities in a good filmmaker: subtlety. See “The Last Samurai,” for an example of extremely unsubtle filmmaking, big musical moments to clue you in that something really really important must be happening, characters explaining what they are doing while they are doing it—you’ll find none of that in “Kitchen Stories.”

It’s often the small, silent moments that deliver the biggest punch. And it’s through moments like these that these two men begin to bond and become good friends. The film explores deeper issues of human relationships—how can someone truly be a detached observer? How much can one learn about another without speaking or interacting with them? Like all good films, it raises these types of questions, answering some, and leaving some for you to answer yourself. That’s all I’m giving you, I suggest your butt find its way to a seat in a theater where this film is playing, post haste. 

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