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" Nobody goes into the valley of death. That’s why they call it the valley of death. "
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O’Horten is about as good—natured and genteel as a movie can get.

Part of our coverage of the Starz Denver Film Festival
Part of our coverage of the Starz Denver Film Festival

Odd Man Out

Odd Horten, the title character whose abbreviated name has an Irish flair, is a passenger train engineer in Norway. The movie starts with Odd getting ready for work then driving his train through tunnels and snowy terrain. It’s a great movie moment of contrasting light with dark, black with white.

After almost 40 years of service, Odd is about ready to retire and receive the illustrious Silver Train award. During the festivities, it’s made clear Odd is something of an oddball. While all the other engineers participate in trivia games and guessing the train associated with obscure soundclips, Odd stays silent.

In fact, Odd is so uncomfortable being in the spotlight or in any sort of confrontational situation, he simply resigns himself to following other people’s rules and leads. Most fatefully, he misses an “after party” at a colleague’s apartment thanks to a broken lift button. The incident leads him to climbing up scaffolding in an effort to reach the apartment, only to be derailed in the wrong place by a little boy who wants him to stay until the boy can fall sound asleep.

With the boy threatening to play his drum set if he leaves, Odd abides. And, as a result, he winds up oversleeping and missing his very last train assignment.

When spotted by some other engineers in the train station that morning, Odd simply runs off. He mails in his badge and, in return, his misplaced Silver Train award is mailed back to him.

Norwegian Exposure

Odd shuffles from one quirky encounter to the next
Odd shuffles from one quirky encounter to the next

O’Horten is a subtle movie. As Odd shuffles from one quirky encounter to the next, it’s not entirely clear where the movie’s headed. But the movie’s ultimate destination is so sweet and heartwarming, it’s certainly worth the ride.

After years of toying with the idea, Odd finally decides to sell his beloved boat to a man named “Flo.” In a sweetly done sequence that contrasts the sublime simplicity of train stations to the ridiculously overcomplicated sprawl of airports, Odd winds up being interrogated and thoroughly examined after being caught smoking his pipe while milling around on the tarmac.

But even after all that, Odd finally meets Flo only to run off and hide in his boat, unable to drop the hammer and seal the deal.

Another wacky segment involves a well-to-do drunkard whom Odd escorts safely home, only to be sucked in to the man’s crazy claim of being able to drive his car with his eyes closed. The man talks Odd into an early-morning, blind lark and proves he’s right. He can drive “blind,” and he navigates his car right up to a stop light. Trouble is, it would prove to be the man’s last drive. He quietly passed away while scooching up to that light.

Instead of staying to answer any questions the paramedics might have, Odd simply runs off — with the man’s dog — and avoids drawing any attention to his own, innocent activities.

Personal Expression

There’s no getting around O’Horten ’s eccentricities. But it’s the kind of genuine goofiness that’s easy to embrace.

Bent Hamer, O’Horten ’s writer, director, and producer, made a big splash in the American independent film scene with Factotum in 2006. That sharp satire, based on Charles Bukowski’s novel, starred Matt Dillon, Lili Taylor and Marisa Tomei.

This time, Hamer’s produced an extremely personal love letter that’s dedicated to his mother and “all other female ski jumpers.” That dedication is particularly poignant in light of another story thread that includes Odd’s mother, a woman with dementia who, once upon a time, was a trailblazing ski jumper.

With O’Horten, Hamer returns to his homeland and makes a very intimate little movie, in Norwegian, with a cast that won’t be familiar to most Americans — although many Bjorns were involved in the production, none bear the last name Borg.

This one’s about life, dreams and the danger of playing it all too safe, the importance of living a life that doesn’t fade into the wallpaper. And it was Norway’s entry for the 2007 Best Foreign Language Oscar.