In O’Horten, Bent Hamer’s writing and directing follow-up to 2005’s surprisingly solid Charles Bukowski adaptation Factotum, the clothes make the man. The impeccably groomed Bård Owe strolls confidently through his job as a railroad engineer, resplendent in his sharp leather jacket and dapper uniform. For Owe, “engineer” isn’t a job so much as an identity. His job gives him purpose, direction, and security. O’Horten explores what happens when this quintessential company man loses his company.
As O’Horten begins, Owe is being pushed out of his job because he’s reached mandatory retirement age after decades of distinguished service. Suddenly, he has all the free time in the world and nothing much to do with it. A man of quiet dignity—even with a mustache that highlights his unfortunate resemblance to Adolf Hitler—he’s out of sync with modern life. Lacking the structure of work, Owe begins to drift through a life where the boundaries between fantasy and reality blur. He meets curious characters and ends up in strange situations, like in the passenger seat of a car driven by a blindfolded man.
O’Horten feels like a waking dream. It’s a film of subtle, insinuating charm, a character study about an eminently sane, reasonable man unsteadily navigating an increasingly insane, unreasonable world. It would be easy for the film to devolve into a precious parade of indie-film quirks, but Hamer undercuts the zaniness with a wry, deadpan, refreshingly restrained sensibility and a subtle mastery of tone. Powered by lush cinematography, a moody score, and Owe’s subtly majestic lead performance, O’Horten oscillates confidently between the mundane and the rapturously beautiful. It’s a sometimes-remarkable film about an unremarkable man standing uncertainly at the crossroads between the comfortable, predictable life he’s led and a scary but exhilarating unknown future.