Sixty-seven-year-old Odd Horten (Bård Owe) makes his last run as a train engineer, and finds even his quiet, solitary retirement in Oslo to be a tricky track to navigate. As writer-director Bent Hamer's gentle film unfolds, it becomes obvious that all of Horten's life likely ran concurrent with the railway's rigid schedules. No surprise, then, that this new phase of his life is marked by his missing the last train.
Hamer, whose last U.S. release was 2005's Bukowski tale Factotum, offers an offbeat, meditatively paced study of one man's fumbling for traction when -- if you excuse the reference -- the last train has literally left the station. In a series of vignettes, some open-ended, Horten wanders the city -- visiting some shops, arranging a (somewhat disastrous) meeting at the airport, and perhaps breaking a rule or two. The film is occasionally humorous, if one's tastes run toward the bone-dry.
O' Horten is filmed with a keen eye toward the flatly lit stillness of a Norwegian winter. I especially liked the hypnotic opening, shot from the engineer's cab on Horten's last run: The train repeatedly crosses snowy landscapes and plunges into pitch-black tunnels, creating a slow-motion flicker of light and dark. Other shots capture the austere beauty of the far northern climes, where even winter's gloom has a certain aesthetic appeal.
The film is never explicit about Horten, his history or desires, yet this is still a character study, disguised as a mood piece about one of life's transitions. And while O' Horten is a slow-moving film without much plot, the patient viewer will be rewarded. At the end of this film, which is often deadpan enough to be surreally disconnected, I was surprised at how much I'd come to intuit about Horten, and how touched I was by the conclusion. In Norwegian, with subtitles. Starts Fri., July 10. Harris