Sunday, June 06, 2004

Things I Should Have Blogged About Yesterday -- When They, You Know, Occurred

The Whistler Show was pretty interesting; I think I'll look at it a few more times before it leaves. It was comprised of etchings and lithographs he and his acolytes made in Venice a hundred years ago; Whistler's seemed individual, distinct and somewhat impressionistic, while the others seemed slavishly realistic. It was interesting to see in particular the way etchings are like photographic negatives, with some color altered the way light is, to achieve a certain effect. I'd say more but I'm not an art critic.


Goodbye, Lenin! wasn't playing -- that arrives next week. Instead the Nick was playing this slight but amusing Swedish thing called Kitchen Stories, directed by Bent Hamer, who co-wrote along with Jorgen Bergmark. It reminded me a little of The Girl From Paris from a few weeks back: both are mild, understated comedies about loneliness, in which solitary farmers who live way out in the sticks have their lives transformed by human contact.

Kitchen Stories has what I would call a very dry Swedish humor -- at least, I assume it's dry, living that close to the Arctic Circle. A Swedish research firm, in an effort to get a picture of the kitchen needs of single men, comes up with this nutty project where observers sit (in a specially-constructed high chair) in the homes of voluntary subjects, tracking the movements of the occupant as he moves in and out of the kitchen -- how often he uses the sink, the stove and so forth -- all the while keeping a totally objective, silent distance. Observer and observed are not to communicate at all. Folke Nilsson (Tomas Norstrom) is sent to the home of Isak (Joachim Calmeyer), an aging farmer who has precisely one other friend, a farmer named Grant (Bjorn Floberg), and only one real emotional connection, with his horse, who is slowly dying.

Isak, we learn later, volunteered for the project under false pretenses, and naturally does not like being watched every time he enters his kitchen. He wages psychological warfare on Folke, either by constantly shutting off the kitchen light, so he'll have to write up his reports in the dark, or putting a pan under the kitchen tap and leaving a slow annoying drip. In time, the struggle not to communicate proves more than either man can handle. After the ice is broken -- over the use of a salt shaker -- they begin to acknowledge each other; soon they're talking frankly and openly, sharing tobacco, coffee and booze, while the project that brought them together goes into a complete shambles.

As Folke, Norstrom has the perpetually glum, befuddled mug of Bob Newhart, and he's well-matched by Calmeyer's amiable weariness. Despite their class differences, both men are resilient workaday joes who have learned not to expect all that much from life, and who have always obeyed the rules, no matter how often they change; life is full of surprises to be weathered, their own friendship being an uncharacteristically pleasant one.

It's a movie of moderate charms: funny, bittersweet, increasingly appealing as it goes along.


Been reading Bausch since the wee hours. As is usually the case, the dog got me up and I just never got back to sleep.

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