I recently had the opportunity to sit down with the writer/director/producer, Bent Hamer, to talk about his most recent movie, O’Horten. Hamer’s newest film is about a quite, lonely man named Odd Horten. After being forced into retirement from his job as a train engineer, Odd has to create an entirely new life for himself. Hamer talks about the evolution and creation of the character, the setting of the film, and other factors that went into the making of this insightful and beautifully shot film.
Here is what he had to say about his new film O’Horten…
How did you develop the main character Odd, and what do you think his appeal is?
BH: He is a traveler, and I think I am still traveling with Odd Horten. To tell this story about an old man retiring, on the first level, hopefully, represents other stages of life, other ages and situations. That is what gives it the, kind of, universal depth. It is not only about an odd little guy from Norway, but you can recognize something and translate it to your own culture, society, and private life. I think that is why this kind of film is traveling. On one hand the film is, maybe, a little bit exotic, a little bit different, yet a personal film. Odd functions well in his professional life, and he is very well respected, but is a little bit of a misfit there too. In the social context, he is a disaster, and he very lonely. He is living his own life, and doesn’t interact too much with others. I know a lot of people who are that way. You could live in New York or Los Angeles, among so many people, but still be lonely. Solitude is present all the time, among a lot of people.
Have you encountered many people like “Odd” in Norway, are they common over there?
BH: There has been a debate about in Norway; the films that are usually exported are, a little bit odd, personal films, like art house films. The question is whether we are presenting the people of Norway in a bad light [laughs]. No, if you are going to Norway, you won’t find too many “Odds” on the street. Yet, there are still a lot of people like him. What I learned when I am traveling, with this film, and doing press around the world is that the people know characters like Odd from all over. It is not my world; that is what people keep telling me.
The scenery of the film incredible, how did you plan the scenery for the movie? What influenced you?
BH: The film does not have much dialogue. I have to plan it carefully, and know what I am doing. I have to know what I will do for there to be meaning behind it. The chance of having him drive an ultra-modern train was something I really liked. I found that quite important. It would be too easy to put him into a more old-fashioned train. We do have those, and they have even steeper and more spectacular routes in Norway. I can see in my other films, I tend to focus on the colors and the setting. It is probably my taste. For the lonely characters, I take away a lot of the people. Even in public places, there are not too many people around. All of this creates the sort of atmosphere I am looking for to tell the story of his solitude.
Ski jumping was a great metaphor throughout the film. How did you develop the idea and why did you use it?
BH: First of all, I think whatever I write, is inspired by my experiences or dreams. I was a ski jumper myself, but that is not very special. My mother was, and that is a little bit more special. There were a lot of ski jumps around my city. No matter where you were, there was a ski jump ten minutes away. I grew up with it. You could probably find parallels between ski jumping and film making. It is a big risk. There is a lot of symbolism behind it. I think I always had the idea of using the ski-jump as some element in my films, but this time I found a way to put it in.
The movie has some very funny scenes, was this intentional or not?
BH: I have never made a comedy in my life, but there is still a lot of humor in my films. And for me, the humor is part of a self-reflection, which again gives a depth and understanding of oneself. If the audience isn’t laughing, then I would be very disappointed. I didn’t really succeed at all. Sometimes the audience laughs more at things I didn’t plan for, but that is sometimes because of the context and the countries. Normally, I am not too surprised by it.
How did you develop the ideas behind the story? Was the process any different from your previous projects?
BH: I am quite free to do as I please. That is the nature of what I do as a writer, producer, and director. I of course have to get money to shoot the film. The script looks different at different stages. There are strategies and all that, and I am absolutely part of that. But I can still follow my tastes, in a way, quite freely. I can form the script in another way. I don’t have to work with a beginning, middle, and an end. I can start anywhere. Like I said, I had the idea for the ski-jump there for a long time, and now I found a place for it. This is not an unusual way to work. But, I think it is crucial not to get hung up on the dramatics, which people lean towards. You have to fit it into a ninety-minute film with dramatics and have some sort of structure. I really like to work with scenes. I like to focus on the individual scenes; I don’t know exactly where it will go. But in the end, everything will fit together.
The dog, Molly, was very cute. She seemed to help open Odd up a bit. Can you tell us a little about her?
BH: The owner is actually a very good friend of mine. He lived in Savannah. Before leaving Savannah, seven years ago, he found five puppies in a container; one of them was Molly, the “actress”. He brought her home; he even had to stay in Denmark for a vaccination program for 7 months, I think, in order to take her home. She has had to go on medication; she has epilepsy. She is a really sweet dog. She got a special mention last year in Cannes. People say, “Dog is Man’s best friend”, well she was the editor’s best friend. She was very quiet and good at taking instructions.
Were there any memorable moments while shooting the film?
BH: I get this question often. I have been very lucky. I have very good people around me, and it is always nice shooting. Of course there are things that don’t go exactly as planned, but I don’t really have any good stories. I’m sorry.
Have you found it difficult to release O’Horten in the United States?
BH: I am coming from a small country. Most of the countries in Europe have a support system, money from the government, to help pay for the project. It is, really, a wonderful thing. I know a lot of people here [the U.S.]. It is a huge struggle to get money to make a film in the United States. It is always difficult to make a film, but it is so much harder in the U.S. It is probably to worst country to make an independent film. It is really hard. For me, I think we have a wonderful opportunity to make films. It is important to have our films travel to foreign countries.
What is one of your biggest concerns as a director?
BH: It is so important to pick a good project. This is an important factor for all directors. But to keep your enthusiasm and energy is so important. That is one of the struggles. It is like, “Who do you want to marry?” It always concerns me if I picked the right project. Up until now, I am quite well off. I have no regrets. It is very important to pick a project you want to do, because it is a good way to keep the focus. It is a long process. You have to convince people and make other people enthusiastic, for quite a long time. If you are not enthusiastic yourself, it is more difficult.
Are you currently working on any new projects?
BH: Yes, I am quite far in the process of my new film. I am going to shoot a film in the coming winter in Norway. I wish I could find a summer film soon. It is a Christmas film, not like a Disney Christmas film. The film is based on the short stories by, Norwegian writer, Levi Hendrickson. The working title is Home for Christmas. It takes place in his village. It is about a few people struggling to find a way home for Christmas. It covers the period of 3-4 hours, when people are trying to make it home in time for Christmas dinner. Some of the lives cross, but it is not like everything is fitting into the same story. The stories do cross. I like it a lot. I think it has huge potential and compliments his writings.
O’Horten will be released in NY/LA on May 22
Check out the trailer below…