Kitchen Stories is a 2004 Norwegian film “based on the real-life social experiments conducted in Sweden during the 1950s. In the years following WWII, a research institute sets out to modernize the home kitchen by observing a handful of rural Norwegian bachelors.” The movie is about friendship, specifically friendships between men and about verbal and non-verbal communication.
Unless you count buddy-cop movies and similar macho posturing, there aren’t a whole lot of movies about friendships between men. Kitchen Stories, which tells the story of Isak and Folke, two regular guys thrown together under very unusual circumstances, is a very good one.
Like most men, they are at first pretty tight-lipped and suspicious of each other. Isak, who misunderstood the terms of the arrangement, feels duped and refuses to honor the agreement. Folke is simply there to do a job. Said to be based on actual experiments conducted in the 1950s, the “job” is a bit ridiculous. Folke is to sit in the corner on a an elevated chair and record in excruciating detail the comings and going of Isak in the kitchen. From this data and that of similar experiments conducted elsewhere, scientists believe they will be able to streamline kitchen efficiencies for men. To ensure the data isn’t corrupted, no communication whatsoever is allowed between observer and observed.
The folly of the experiment, of course, is in failing to recognize that not only does non-verbal communication exist, it’s role is frequently the more important of the two. Almost all the communication in the early part of the film is non-verbal, and if you hate sub-titles, don’t worry. Very little reading is necessary. As the two struggle to negotiate the roles of observer and observed, the trust they build is based on the slow erosion of (frequently hilarious) micro-aggressions and their replacement with small acts of kindness. All of this, of course, happens wordlessly. And that’s the beauty of the film, really. These aren’t exactly loquacious men. They wouldn’t have words for this anyway.
Funny, heartwarming, and highly recommended. Critic Stephen Real called it, “A thoroughly charming oddity. And, in the end, a moving one, too,” and that’s a pretty apt description.