Movie Review: Kitchen Stories

By Moira Sullivan
Movie Magazine International
Bent Hamer has made a picture perfect film in Kitchen Stories capturing the essence of good natured contact with representatives of the border countries of Sweden and Norway. The film evokes a nostalgic time with the customs and traditions of the 50s The dialogue is realistic and the actors both Norwegian and Swedish by Scandinavian standards are good. Isak (Joachim Calmeyer, a crusty Norwegian farmer has agreed to have an observer monitor his kitchen habits for a horse from the 'Swedish Home Research Unit' --Folke Nilsson (played Tomas Norström The reward turns out to be the famous Swedish red wooden Dalarna horse. They eventually wind up observering each other and speaking to each other which destroys the scientific neutrality of the experiment. Folke sits in a high chair in Joachim's kitchen and Joachim spies on him from a hole in the ceiling. They develop a beautiful friendship that is endearing and carries a pulse through the entire film.
Here is an art house rarity of subtlety and typical Scandinavian humor along with a slew of artifacts: hot dogs in a can, a Swedish sandwich made of bologna and cheese and no bread, small cups of coffee, old sturdy black telephones, Amazon Volvo, and green caravans as they are called in Europe or trailers (recalling the caravan parade in Gilbert Grape).
Bent Hamer came up for the idea of the film years ago after flipping through old reports and instruction films from the Swedish 'Hemmens forskningsinstitut' or 'Home Resarch Institute' as well as copies of instructional booklets like ' The Housewife's ABCs with plenty of rational advice on how to run a home. IKEA is in fact a concept based on 'rational' furniture. The kitchen industry was booming in Sweden during the 50's and huge installations were transported by train around the country. Hence home research units were sent to Norway and what a fantastic idea for a film.
Kitchen Stories digs at the big brother complex Norway has towards Sweden as a more productive and advanced neighbor crystallized by the scientific monitoring Sweden brings to the Norwegian countryside. It also is a dig at Swedish passivity symbolized by Folke's passive role as an observer because the story is set right after the war. Neutral Sweden allowed German troops to pass through the country to Norway by train and looked the other way.
When the film debuted at Cannes last year one of the pea green caravans paraded up and down the Croisette. Kitchen Stories is in limited release and may be soon coming to a theater near you.
More Information:
Kitchen Stories
Norway/Sweden - 2003