‘O’Horten’ is outwardly cool, but warm and funny

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, June 18, 2009 6:01pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

What is it about the title “O’Horten” that strikes my ear so pleasingly? I can’t quite put my finger on it. Maybe it’ll come to me.

In fact, the title is a shortened form of the main character’s name, which is actually Odd Horten. (No comments, thank you.) He’s a train conductor in Norway, on the verge of retiring after an admirable 40-year-run.

Odd Horten is played by Baard Owe, an actor so leathery you can easily believe he’s been smoking his trusty pipe even longer than he’s been driving the train. He doesn’t speak much, but he communicates enough.

We follow Odd around for a few days, sitting in on the strange little encounters he has. Of course he is presented with the esteemed “Silver Locomotive” award for his service to the railway. But other events are less expected.

Odd is clearly a man accustomed to schedules, patterns and destinations. Oh, sure, once upon a time he might have thought about following in his mother’s footsteps (or snowtrails) and tried ski jumping. But that was too risky, too scary, not controlled enough.

Now that he’s on his own, is it any wonder peculiar things happen?

His footloose encounters are rendered in the kind of deadpan, dryly humorous fashion that seems to be inbred in Scandinavian filmmakers. Director Bent Hamer made the wonderful “Kitchen Stories” in 2003, which also had a nonverbal style that approached the visual jokery of silent movies.

The movie gazes at its series of unusual events with exactly the same kind of placid curiosity Odd has. And yet he’s not an unchanging monolith; we sense that his retirement is bringing about some much-needed variations in the old routine.

“O’Horten” might seem cool on the surface, but it actually bears a warm appreciation for life. When Odd meets a stranger who wants to test a theory about driving a car with his eyes closed, Odd gamely tags along to observe. Might be interesting, after all, and it’s the middle of the night anyway, and what’s the worst that could happen?

In short, I would’ve liked this movie even without the great title.


After 40 years as a train conductor in Norway, Odd Horten retires — and finds himself at loose ends after a lifetime lived by timetables. Bent Hamer’s deadpan-funny film is cool on the surface but has quite a warm, accepting attitude toward its many oddball characters. (In Norwegian, with English subtitles.)

Rated: PG-13 for subject matter

Showing: Varsity

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