Among the responses to my Spectator article on the Lockdown earlier this week, someone suggested I should watch the Norwegian movie, Kitchen Stories. I viewed it today (note: it’s not free. I had to spring a couple bucks for rental). It’s an interesting and affecting comedy of very simple manners.
Director Bent Hamer had read about Swedish studies of the efficiency of housewives after World War II (efficiency studies were all the rage in those days). He wondered what would have happened if somebody had studied single males the same way. So he came up with this story about Swedish researchers going to Norway to test the gold standard of single males, Norwegian Bachelor Farmers. The idea is for each researcher to camp in a trailer next to his subject’s house, and sit all day in an elevated chair to chart how the man uses his kitchen. Researchers are supposed to have no personal interaction with the subjects in any way.
Researcher Folke Nilsson drives with a caravan of others (much is made of the fact that Swedes drove on the left side of the road in those days, while Norwegians drove on the right) to the rural village of Landstad in Norway.
(Here’s a detail most English-speaking reviewers won’t know: “Landstad” is familiar to Norwegians as the last name of Magnus Brostrup Landstad, a pastor of the Norwegian-Danish state church. He is best remembered for compiling Landstad’s Hymnal (1869), which was the standard hymnbook used by Danish and Norwegian Lutherans for more than a hundred years [in America too]. The original Norwegian title of this film is Salmer Fra Kjøkkenet – Hymns from the Kitchen.)
Folke sets up at the farm of Isak Bjørvik, who has changed his mind about participating, and refuses to let him in the house at first (he’d been told he’d be given a horse, but it turns out to be one of those red-painted wooden Dala Horses they sell in Scandinavian gift shops). He finally relents and lets Folke in, but then stays out of kitchen as much as possible. Instead he bores a hole of his own in the ceiling so he can spy on Folke from upstairs.
However, humanity transcends science. Gradually, through small acts of kindness, the two men develop a grudging tolerance for one another, and then genuine friendship. Folke breaks all the rules of the study, finding himself in need of friendship in his own right. This angers the local postman, Grant, who up till now had been Isak’s only friend. Grant looks at first like a comic character, until we learn his background. Grant takes direct action to show his displeasure.
Kitchen Stories can be taken on many different levels. It could be seen spiritually, sociologically, or philosophically (the researchers are proud “positivists”). You could even approach it from a quantum physics perspective – the act of observing an object alters that object. It was a touching and amusing movie, and I recommend it, with cautions for language (in subtitles, of course – they’re not bad but I could have done better) and adult themes.