Tag Archives: Bent Hamer

Kitchen stories

19 Mar

From the title alone, it won’t surprise you that Kitchen stories, or Salmer fra kjøkkenet in Norwegian, is a favourite of mine since I love all things culinary. Yet this isn’t a film simply about cooking but more about research, objectivity, loneliness and friendship. We find ourselves in 1950s Sweden where the Hemmets Forskningsinstitut (Home research Institute) is conducting studies into housewives, the equipment they use and the movements around the kitchen. It turns out that the average Swedish housewife goes the equivalent distance of Scandinavia to the Congo simply in one room but what about single men? This is the next task of the HFI; to travel to Norway and find out. Each male researcher will sit on a high chair to observe their subject’s cooking habits, drawing lines on the plans of the kitchen as they move around. They are forbidden to talk or interact with each other so the researchers will sleep in small caravans outside for the duration of the study. Cue a wonderful scene of identical cars pulling green tone caravans, changing from left to right as they cross over the border from Sweden to Norway, like an absurd camping trip.  Yet from the beginning, things are not quite so simple. Isaak, an antisocial Norwegian farmer, immediately regrets having agreed to take part in the survey yet eventually has to leave the front door open for Folke, his reasearcher,  to come and perch in the corner of his kitchen. Folke’s presence clearly makes Isaak uncomfortable and unable to behave normally which raises the question of how objective such a study can be. Can we really understand the behaviour of others without any social interaction? Little by little the two men find out how similar they are and how they need each other; the experiment has to be abandoned and the observer will become the observed.

It’s a wonderfully understated film without much dialogue but plenty of absurd situations and deadpan facial expressions, gently poking fun at the the idea of the documentary and the search for the ideal kitchen. There is no love story but instead friendship between real people who are no longer young which touches us more and more as the story progresses. Even if many of the scenes take place inside, the outdoor shots of snowy landscapes, tall forest trees and pale evening light are no less stunning. Every detail is beautifully researched; the cars, the clothes and the interiors and accompanied by a wonderful soundtrack, including the Delta Rhythm Boys singing about the girls in Småland (watch the video here). A friend also pointed out to me how exquisitely  clear the sounds in the film are; the crunching of chocolate which could be next to your ear, the filling of glasses with bourbon and the blowing out of birthday candles. At the end, it makes us realise that it’s these little moments and details in life that count and make it special.