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Kitchen Stories

A movie directed by Bent Hamer

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A Recipe for Success

  • Dec 26, 2009
Pros: Funny, warm, simple; great acting, visually appealing

Cons: None at all

The Bottom Line: Science sparks an unusual friendship

Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie''s plot.


Believing that he'll receive a horse in return, stubborn, set in his ways, bachelor Isak (Joachim Calmeyer) agrees to take part in a study by the Swedish Housekeeping Institute: they've already done research into the kitchen habits of Swedish housewives and now they want to turn their attention to those of Norwegian bachelors. The set-up is simple: one observer will be matched up with each participant and will sit in a high chair in one corner of their kitchen, having no contact, verbal or otherwise, just taking notes as the subject goes about their work in the kitchen as usual. But when Isak receives an ornamental toy horse, he decides go "on strike", making things difficult for his patient observer, Folke (Tomas Norström). Isak switches the lights off when he leaves the kitchen fully aware that Folke isn't allowed to get down from his perch and turn them back on, and he leaves a tap dripping so that Folke is forced to listen to it for hours on end as Isak starts taking the carrying out his usual kitchen chores upstairs in his bedroom instead.

One night when Folke is asleep in his caravan parked outside Isak's house, one of his colleagues comes hammering on the door in a state. He's been reprimanded by the boss for having started drinking beer with his study subject. He asks Folke how they can possibly learn anything when they aren't allowed to communicate which gets Folke thinking. The following day when Isak is searching for the salt cellar to season his boiled egg, Folke gives a little cough and an almost imperceptible nod of the head to tell Isak where he can find it. Over illicit cups of coffee, the men start to talk and discover that in spite of their differences, they have much in common.

"Kitchen Stories" is a simple film that, while it is hugely predictable in terms of outcomes, provides plenty of surprises in terms of the fine details. It's set in the 1950s and this provides a thrilling visual aspect to the film which makes it quite quirky. In the opening sequence the observers arrive in the remote village of Landstad in a convoy of tiny caravans in which the observers will sleep during the study. Everything is perfectly in period but rather than present a piece of history, it comes across as a modern fairytale as this snaking line of metal boxes winds into the village which has a deep blanket of snow. Throw in the quaint rural houses and the simple country folk and you're halfway to a modern Hansel and Gretel.

We associate this forward-thinking, serious attitude with the Swedes and this is played on in the film. There's a strong contrast between the business-like Swedes who need to get the job done with ruthless efficiency and the naïve, sheltered Norwegians who find the whole idea of being observed doing what they do without thinking as really quite bizarre. A Norwegian friend told me that there are lots of little jokes that Swedish and Norwegian viewers will pick up on that might not be so obvious to other viewers but on the whole I could see how the relationship between Norway and Sweden was being portrayed. It's all very gentle humour, though, and even though it's a Norwegian film, the Norwegians set themselves up for as much teasing as is directed towards the Swedes.

Although the film has English subtitles, one of the things I liked best about it was that, for at least the first half of "Kitchen Stories", you don't need them at all because there is so little dialogue. Folke and Isak don't communicate verbally, everything is done through facial expressions and body language and this shows off the brilliant casting. The sneaky little glances Isak casts towards Folke to check whether his annoying actions are having the desired effect are so naughty while Folke's patient monitoring of Isak's increasingly bizarre way of carrying out his chores is pure comedy. There's a wonderful scene where, knowing that Folke is plotting the path Isak takes around the kitchen, deliberately moves backwards and forwards in a totally contrived way to scupper the results of the observation. You don't need dialogue or subtitles to appreciate the humour.

For such a simple story, writer-director Bent Hamer packs in plenty to think about. The main focus of the story is the friendship between the two men but the relationship between Sweden and Norway is a recurring theme that provides much of the humour. In one scene, one of the observers complains at having to drive on the right in Norway saying that it's starting to make him feel unwell (at that time Swedes drove on the left though this has since changed). The sub-plot (or rather the enabling plot) of the "scientific" research is fun and interesting at the same time; I'm sure the more laid back Norwegians were enjoying a little dig at the progressive Swedes here!

I'd pretty much recommend "Kitchen Stories" across the board; there's no swearing, no sexual content and although it's rather quirky, there's not that intense darkness so common in Scandinavian films. "Kitchen Stories" is simple film in terms of subject matter and presentation but it is a memorable one that is utterly charming and compelling. Highly recommended.

95 minutes


Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Fit for Friday Evening
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older

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January 23, 2011
awesome! stellar write up! You certainly got my attention!
More Kitchen Stories reviews
review by . May 13, 2012
As quiet and dry as a Norwegian bachelor
Kitchen Stories, a Norwegion/Swedish co-production, starts out as a dry, deadpan comedy of differences and ends as a dry, deadpan comedy of friendships.      Sweden's Home Research Institute has just finished a detailed, observation-based study of the Swedish housewife's movements through her kitchen. The purpose is to maximize efficiency. The next step is a study of Norwegian bachelors and how they use their kitchens. Observers are sent out to scientifically plot the …
review by . January 23, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Isak did not care to speak to Folke. Folke was not to speak to Isak. Such were the rules unspoken and otherwise. This is "Kitchen Stories," or, as this movie is known in Norway, "Salmer Fra Kjøkkenet."      Isak, as the subject of Folke's sociological research, offered himself up to be studied thinking a horse was to be provided, and when a toy horse arrived instead of a breathing one, on strike he went. Thus began their banal arrangement.   …
About the reviewer
Fiona Thompson ()
Ranked #301
I live in the UK but have a second home in Slovenia where I hope soon to move to on a permanent basis.      I love to travel and I write for a number of sites about my travel experiences. … more
About this movie


A quaint story about the friendship between two aging men, KITCHEN STORIES is packaged as a comedy with a very strange premise. It is based on research conducted in Sweden in the 1950s when women were observed in the kitchen for a study to determine the best housework techniques. In the film, a fictional plotline concerns a team of Swedish scientists--all men--hired to observe bachelors living alone in Norway. Their methods are absurd. The observers live in funny little trailers outside their subjects' houses. They sit in high, intimidating chairs placed in the corner of their subjects' kitchens where they take notes on a clipboard. Finally, there is a strict rule that the observer and the subject must not speak to each other or make contact of any kind. This last rule is impossible to follow, and in the case of observer Folke (Tomas Norstrom) and subject Isak (Joachim Calmeyer) it is ignored. The two aging men become fast friends, passing wintry afternoons in the rural countryside sipping coffee, smokin...
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Director: Bent Hamer
Genre: Drama
Release Date: February 20, 2004
MPAA Rating: Unrated
DVD Release Date: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment (December 14, 2004)
Runtime: 1hr 31min
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