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Originally published Thursday, June 18, 2009 at 2:32 PM

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Movie review

Deadpan comedy 'O'Horten' is odd yet satisfying

"O'Horten" is a sly, deadpan Norwegian comedy that focuses on an aging railway engineer (Baard Owe) facing an uncertain future.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 3 stars

"O'Horten," with Baard Owe. Written and directed by Bent Hamer. 90 minutes. Rated PG-13 for brief nudity. In Norwegian, with English subtitles. Varsity.

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At the beginning of the sly Norwegian comedy "O'Horten," railway engineer Odd Horten appears to have arrived at the end of the line.

He can't get with the program at his jolly retirement party. When he visits his spacey mother, he fails to earn a response from her. He tries to sell a boat but gets distracted.

Deftly played by veteran actor Baard Owe, Odd Horten is a little like a cold-weather Jacques Tati, complete with comforting pipe and quizzical manner. But he seems even more removed from reality than Tati, especially when it comes to dealing with modern security measures and technology.

And he's hardly alone in feeling disconnected. A friendly "diplomat" is not what he seems. Neither is the man's "genius" brother. At one point, men in leather jackets kidnap a chef, and no one in his restaurant seems to care. A waiter simply announces that "there will be no more food orders."

The movie gradually becomes a comic parade of missed connections, shifting identities and forgetfulness. Comparisons to Samuel Beckett, Aki Kaurismaki and Buster Keaton are not out of order.

The writer-director, Bent Hamer (who made a flavorful English-language 2006 film of Charles Bukowski's "Factotum"), isolates his characters in snowy landscapes that accumulate meaning on a personal as well as a political level.

Philosophical discussions begin to take on a cosmic dimension. Has a piece of rock from space come to rest on Earth, or is this just another chapter in its adventures?

The dreamy ending, with Horten's locomotive looking more and more like a toy train chugging through fake snow, is not the work of a filmmaker who prefers answers over questions. But, thanks to the consistent deadpan tone that Hamer and Owe establish, it's oddly satisfying.

John Hartl:

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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