B R I E F   S Y N O P S I S
Set during Scandinavia's post-war industrial boom of the 1950s, director/co-writer Bent Hamer's comedy chronicles the unexpected friendship between Folke (Tomas Norström), an employee from Sweden's Home Research Institute, and the Norwegian Isak (Joachim Calmeyer), the cranky, reluctant farmer whose kitchen routines he is sent to observe. Folke is assigned to watch Isak's homemaking habits but is forbidden from interacting with him in any way—which becomes impossible when Isak begins to sabotage the entire study. Winner of the Amanda, Norway's highest film award for Best Feature Film.
  The timeless desire of the human heart to escape classification
   
 

I am looking at a picture of my grandfather. He is seated on a sea chest wearing a white shirt. He is in New York, the year is 1921, and he is in his early twenties. His twin brother Harald is seated next to him. They are both smoking pipes and smiling at the photographer…

I am on my way to America. To present my latest film, Kitchen Stories, and to plan my next, Factotum. Kitchen Stories is based on Swedish kitchen research of the 1950s. Factotum is based on Charles Bukowski's novel of the same name. It will be shot in the United States with an American cast, and is primarily about staying the course inside out.

In light of the post-war period's belief in efficiency and technological development, and insistence on categorizing and quantifying absolutely everything, experts of the house and home found out that by simply organizing the kitchen's workstations properly, the financial benefits for a household could be enormous. Or, as a Swedish ad for the new ideal kitchen put it: Instead of a housewife having to walk the equivalent of Sweden-Congo during a year of cooking, she now only needed to walk to northern Italy in order to get the food on the table. Grand calculations of major economical significance were presented as indisputable evidence. It was the golden age of social democracy.

The film starts after scientists at the Home Research Institute in Sweden have completed mapping the Swedish housewife's behavior in the kitchen. By the early '50s they finally feel ready to venture beyond their own geographic and gender-based limitations, so they send eighteen observers to a rural district of southern Norway, with its surplus of bachelors, to study the kitchen routines of single men.

In order to be on twenty-four hour call, the observers live in egg-shaped campers outside each subject's house. From high, custom-made observation chairs strategically placed in each kitchen, few activities will escape this new science. The observers must be allowed to come and go as they please, and under no circumstances must they be spoken to or included in kitchen activities. The world becomes reduced, and thus made understandable to the scientists.

We Norwegians have always laughed at the Swedes' passion for bureaucracy and security. Wicked tongues with their memory intact relate how those who drove Saabs, and not safer Volvos, would use helmets when driving—that you could risk seeing entire families wearing helmets on Sunday drives in their Saab.

My grandfather never used a helmet, but grandmother always made sure he wore clean underwear when he rode his moped, in case he was in an accident and ended up in the hospital. Just in case.

Charles Bukowski never used a helmet. He drove a VW Beetle. "If you are going to try, go all the way. Otherwise don't even start," he wrote in the poem Roll the Dice. For a long time I've wanted to see a film that deals with drinking, which realistically shows the effort it takes to stay "there" or, alternatively, the effort it takes to give it up. From a closed-room mystery of sorts in Kitchen Stories I try to sneak sideways across the Atlantic to the wide open city in Factotum, where Charles Bukowski's alter ego, Henry Chinaski, guides us. Bukowski describes a world that to many appears exclusionary, cold, and destructive. His work is part, or a direct result, of a life where he is an observer of the "darker" side, always trying to report the truth by taking part in it. In addition to his brilliant dialogue, he uses a funny view of the world and of himself to produce stories that are both universally recognizable and uniquely his, that give the readers an intimate understanding of his characters. I personally feel that his dark humor rests on a deep awareness of, and love for, the poetry of people living on the edge.

"The only difference between a madman and me,
is that I am not a madman."
–Salvador Dali.

I think one of my underlying motives in telling kitchen stories or writing the adaptation of Factotum, is my continuing preoccupation with what it is that makes us human. What draws us together despite our differences in culture or status? Is there really anything essential separating us?

As the scientist Heisenberg discovered, to observe is to change what is viewed. That, in turn, makes a wry statement about the limitations of cinema itself.

My grandfather returned to Norway. His twin brother Harald became Harold. They both sat on their sea chests and smiled at the photographer…

   

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