One of Scandinavia’s best-known directors, Bent Hamer sat with Variety to discuss his latest film, “1001 Grams,” Norway’s foreign-language Oscar candidate, and his English-language debut project, “The Middleman.” “1001 Grams,” a subtle and contemplative Paris-set film, shares the philosophical bent and, to a lesser extent, the satirical humor of his 2003’s critically-acclaimed “Kitchen Stories.” While “Stories” turned on a scientist whose job is to observe single men’s kitchen habits, “1001 Grams” follows Marie (played by Norwegian Shooting Star Ane Dahl Torp), a young scientist who travels to Paris for a seminar on the actual weight of a kilo and unexpectdely falls in love. As “Kitchen Stories” did in 2003, “1001 Grams” is competing for a foreign-language Oscar nomination and has garnered warm reviews throughout its solid festival run, which kicked off at Toronto. “1001 Grams” marks Hamer’s first film in four years, following his more mainstream pic, “Home for Christmas.” Les Films du Losange has sold “1001 Grams” in most key territories. Kino Lorber acquired the film at the AFM and will release it in the U.S.. Pic will next play at Les Arcs European Film Festival.
How did you come up with the idea of making a movie centering around a scientist searching for the exact weight of a kilo? It’s quite an unlikely pitch!
Lots of different things. It all began with a radio documentary about the weight of a kilogram. It got me thinking about possible stories — it’s like when you look at a painting or an installment, you see a depth and many layers. So it was the beginning of the idea. Later on, it popped up again during a trip to Mexico with other filmmakers and businessmen. I met the architect of the metrology institute in Norway and the idea of making a movie about a character working at the institute came back to my mind and I started telling her about it. When we returned to Norway she gave me a tour of the institute and I found it very inspiring.
What are the layers about “1001 Grams”? Marie has no children, is stuck in a dead-end marriage and has a very limited social life outside of work. Is your film an allegory, a reflexion on solitude?
Yes, this movie is about human beings, not about science. Marie’s quest to find exact weight of a kilogram is a metaphor. We all search for references in our life. We are afraid of death. It’s a film about solitude. I think a lot of people can relate with Marie because when your personal life doesn’t fulfill you it’s easy to take refuge in your work For me there is a poetic depth in it as well. Marie is driven by precision, accuracy. But these notions are almost obsolete. What do they really mean and why do they matter? That’s an interesting philosophical aspect of the film as well.
Are you also making a commentary on how modern women tackle loneliness, romance, etc.?
I think the movie wouldn’t be much different if I had chosen a male protagonist. It’s a story about solitude and human beings not about gender. I wanted to depict this woman’s loneliness in the most authentic way. Usually in movies when a woman is single she has a lot of friends, a great social life, and so on. But in real life that’s not always the case, and I want to be as real as possible.
You mentioned earlier paintings and installations, is contemporary art an inspiration for you?
I get my inspiration from anywhere. I’ve been working with the same d.p. (John Christian Rosenlund) for 25 years and we’ve now done four features together. I think the way you shoot has to support the story you’re telling. This film deals with the quest for precision, accuracy, and that’s reflected in the stark visual style. Each shot in “1001 Grams” says something and small details can have quite a substantial meaning. But that’s how I like to work. I plan the shoot and the editing very carefully but I try to stay open-minded throughout the process.
If we over-simplify the plot, “1001 Grams” could be pitched as a romantic comedy set in Paris, but your movie is the polar opposite to typical Hollywood romcoms, isn’t it?
Yes, I wanted to avoid the pitfalls of stereotypical romantic comedies and I made choices that may be unpopular with sales agents and distributors. But since I’m also the producer of my film (via his outfit Bulbul Film) that gives me some freedom. I think it was great to have Laurent Stocker cast in this role, rather than the typical – and more aggressive — French lover. Laurent’s character is gentle, sensitive and doesn’t rush anything. And we wanted to follow the same pace as we watch Ane’s character gradually awakening to her emotions and finally falling for Pi. I think it’s important to take the time to let the story unfold naturally. It was quite a challenging and interesting role for Ane, who joyful real-life personality is so different from Marie’s. She delivered a real performance.
So what are you working on now?
I’m now focusing on an English-language project that I’m very enthusiastic about. It’s completely different from what I’ve done before. I’ve acquired the rights to a novel called “The Middleman” by Lars Saabye Christensen (the best-selling author of “Beatles,” and screenwriter of “King of Devil’s Island”) and I’m writing the adaptation. It’s pulled from a chapter of the book. It takes place in a suburban town near Detroit where a lot of people live below the poverty line, as in many parts of the U.S.. It’s a love story with many layers and dark humor, and it’s also a critical look at life in the United States today. I’d like to get it entirely produced in the U.S. but we might have to set it up as a European-U.S. co-production.