Review by Christy Collins
Norwegian filmmaker Bent Hamer’s subtle romance 1001 Grams is a wry reflection on life, ageing parents and the value of things that can’t be measured.
Marie Ernst (Ane Dahl Torp) is working at the Norwegian Institute of Weights and Measures, and following in her father’s footsteps in taking care of Norway’s standard kilogram. Meanwhile, her ex-husband is gradually stripping the stylish home they once shared of furniture and artworks. When her father becomes ill, it falls to Marie to attend a conference in Paris to calibrate the national kilogram and discuss matters of weight with representatives from around the world. It is here that she meets the institute’s gardener, Pi (Laurent Stocker), who has an interest in measuring bird-song and challenges Marie about how much in life can truly be weighed. Marie is perhaps the polar opposite of Henry Chinaski, Hamer’s protagonist in Factotum (2005): where Chinaski was the alcohol-addled, slacker alter ego of Charles Bukowski – who could maintain neither employment nor relationships – Marie is ordered, diligent and scientific.
Hamer has a finely tuned eye for absurdity, as evidenced in his quiet crowd-pleaser Kitchen Stories (2003). In 1001 Grams, we see this in the institute where Marie works, which calibrates the scales for weighing jockeys and tests lotto balls for true randomness. Hamer also has an interest in loneliness, isolation and the process of ageing, and this film is pervaded with a sense of emptiness and stillness. He allows himself a touch of magic realism, which does not feel out of place given the allegorical nature of the film, but which some viewers may find grating. It lets the film slide into a slightly sentimentalised narrative on death, which reflects the way grief makes us see the world for a while: watching for signs from loved ones and sometimes finding them.
1001 Grams is beautifully stylised, with a notable reliance on the colour blue but with a palette that warms as the film progresses. Several of the characters observe that “life’s heaviest burden is to have nothing to carry”, and while the film sometimes leans heavily on its central metaphor, the stylistic treatment of the apparatus of measurement helps to justify the central place of weights and measures in the film. Hamer’s attention to visual detail gives the film a lushness, and the compassion with which he treats his characters brings a real warmth to the narrative that is reflected visually in its closing scenes.