O'Horten: A cold comedy with a life lesson

The day you retire is a little late to realize everything in life you've missed out on. But that's what Odd Horten does in the droll, wistful Norwegian (with English subtitles) comedy "O'Horten."

Odd is his name, and odd is the way to describe this 67-year-old railroad engineer who lives alone, drives his train, sucks on his pipe and sticks to a routine that he developed 30 years before. It takes his retirement to shake up, even mildly, this man who wonders what he has lived for and what he has left to live for.

Norwegian filmmaker Bent Hamer makes dry, serio-comic movies built around small lives observed in minute detail. You might have seen his "Kitchen Stories" a few years back. "O'Horten" is another slice of a Scandinavian life of quieter-than-quiet desperation.

Odd (Baard Owe) has never married. He drinks his beer in the same seat in the only Oslo restaurant he frequents and tries to avoid a series of comical encounters with people outside his limited world.

Owe, as Odd, personifies reserve. He sits quietly by as his colleagues act out goofy engineer cheers at his retirement dinner and play "Name that whistle" off an ancient tape recording. When he walks into the wrong apartment for an after-party drink and bumps into a small child, he'd rather hide under the bed than explain himself.

Hamer imitates the wordless comedies of the late, great French comic Jacques Tati ("Monsieur Hulot's Holiday") here -- nudging Odd Horten into embarrassing situations and petty indignities (he's mistaken for a terrorist on his first-ever airport visit). Through each set-up, Owe maintains a straight face, rarely giving away that Odd is weighing it all and resolving to change.

"O'Horten" isn't a laugh a minute. The comedy is frostier than the Norwegian snow scapes Odd pilots his train through. It's a film whose pleasures come slowly, as we, like the title character, discover the joys he has missed. Best of all, we, like Odd the Norwegian bachelor, figure out it is never too late to start living.

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