Bent Hamer nails another odd story


N orwegian filmmaker Bent Hamer is a generous man. At the end of our interview, while waiting for the next journalist to arrive, Hamer began putting together media kits that were piled up on a desk to be sorted out by the staff of his film’s promotion company. Told not to bother, he kept at it with a grin, saying “I have to do everything.”

And indeed, he is no stranger to multitasking: Hamer is a director, writer and producer. After making shorts and documentaries, Hamer founded the production company BulBul Film in 1994 in Oslo. He has released three feature films in Japan since then, including 2003’s delightful “Kitchen Story,” a droll tale about the friendship between two old men and his first English-language film, “Factotum” (2005), an adaptation of Charles Bukowski’s book of the same name. In his latest film, “O’ Horten,” which will be released Feb. 21, Hamer returns to his homeland to tell another offbeat tale of a lonely, aging man.

The film follows Odd Horten, who, after working as a train driver for 40 years, faces retirement. On his last day of work, the 67-year-old Horten, for the first time in his career, oversleeps and misses his last ride. As a train driver, he has led an orderly life plying the route between Oslo and Bergen, but now, with no timetable to follow, Horten is lost. Having no wife or children or social life of which to speak, he wanders around Oslo and encounters quirky people who inspire him to create a new life for himself.

“The film is about solitude and grabbing life,” explained Hamer. In an interview late last year when he was in Tokyo to promote “O’ Horten,” Hamer discussed with The Japan Times why he is attracted to stories about older men and how he approaches film.

Your previous films “Eggs” and “Kitchen Story” were also about old men. What made you make another film about a man nearing the end of his life?

By accident or coincidence, I ended up with an old man again. But I’m happy about it, because there are not so many films about old men or old people.

My aim is that, even if you choose a subject or situation like that, I hope to represent a lot more about the other stages of life, other situations and other ages. Even if you are young, you can relate to some of the situations, some of the feelings and the atmosphere.

How did you approach O’ Horten’s story?

When I wrote “Kitchen Stories,” it was a very focused idea. It started with a page in a big book from the ’50s, and I didn’t realized that it was possible to base a whole feature on that small idea. But it happened. I started from the inside and built the structure out from there. This time, I started with a lot of pieces and didn’t really know where to go.

Why do you often choose as your protagonists individuals who spend a lot of time in solitude?

I probably am a melancholy man myself. I can’t say I’m lonely, but maybe we are all lonely inside our head. You see, when I make a story, I leave a lot out to make it very naked, very transparent. I like to take out a lot of things to concentrate on as few things as possible.

That explains why there is so little dialogue and so few facial expressions.

Yes. Little dialogue. I think it also creates humor, which is a wonderful way of communicating. Not in that “ha ha” way that makes you laugh out loud, but in a way that flows through the situation that you can see the person in. There’s no guarantee that you will get it, but at least it’s one way of trying to bring audiences into the story and to make them feel something about their own lives. If a movie has a lot of elements and is fast, then it’s easier to just sit there and not involve yourself in it. You just watch it, then it’s gone.

There is a certain warmth in the way you depict the characters.

I try to see them in an inclusive way and maybe in a generous way. And then you are able to put some warmth into the story. Even in Charles Bukowski’s works, it’s easy to recognize that Henry Chinaski is his alter-ego in a down-and-dirty way, which is the cliche — and the cliche is a part of the truth, too. But my interpretation was a little bit different. When Linda Bukowski (Charles’ wife) saw the film, I was scared, because I knew she would call me after. The first thing she told me was that she was touched. Which was good, because she has seen lots of pictures (about him). He did a lot of things that you wouldn’t expect someone to do at all, but on the other hand, there was a soft side to him too. He was able to describe people on the edge not in a sentimental way, but in a real one. So, there are many ways of seeing things, and maybe I am the kind of person who tries to see things in a generous way, which creates a warmth when you see it.

What’s next for you?

I’m planning to do a film that will take place during Christmas, three or four hours on a Christmas eve. I hope to shoot it this winter.