Movie Review: How much is a kilo?

1001 Grams tells a weighty story.

1001 Grams movie (photo credit: PR)
1001 Grams movie
(photo credit: PR)
In the novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera explored matters of weight in a metaphorical sense. Norwegian director Bent Hamer’s minimalist but moving comic drama 1001 Grams also uses weight as a symbol, but then examines in literally. In a quote that is repeated several times in the movie – but never attributed to anyone – characters say, “The heaviest burden is having nothing to carry.”
This carefully constructed film is the story of Marie (Ane Dahl Torp), a scientist and inspector whose job involves overseeing weights and measures. She is careful and in control. Tall and thin, her blond hair is neat and her clothes are so tailored they might as well be a uniform. She is going through a divorce and avoids her soon-to-be ex; she leaves their house whenever she knows he will be removing belongings from it. She drives a tiny, energy-saving car and lives in a tidy, spotless home.
The only two people with whom she seems to have any connection are the secretary at her office and her father, Ernst Ernst (Stein Winge), with whom she works at the Norwegian Institute of Weights and Measures. Ernst, who is not in good health and may have been drinking too much recently, is in charge of the Norwegian prototype of the kilo, an important weight that is the standard for all measurements in the country. Made out of metal, the Norwegian kilo is covered by two bell jars and must be treated with utmost care when it is removed from its container. But after Ernst suffers a serious heart attack, Marie takes his place at an international conference in Paris, where the Norwegian kilogram and the prototypes from all other countries will be recalibrated when they are measured against the standard kilo, which is kept under wraps at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM).
This is all comically esoteric but, as my father used to say, sometimes the most interesting thing about something is that people are interested in it.
It is hard not to root for a character so utterly devoted to an ideal that is both concrete and abstract, and earnest scientists are an underused resource in the movie comedy universe. It is clear that no one can keep life as ordered as Marie has apparently done for most of her life, and soon various events that are out of her control force her to make some changes.
These include coping with a heartbreaking loss and gradually making a connection to another weight scientist, a Frenchman named Pi (Laurent Stocker, a familiar face from many French films, among them the 2007 Hunting and Gathering, which also starred Audrey Tautou). He is a gentle counterpart to Marie, and his hobby – when he needs a break from weighing weights – is recording bird calls at various locations and examining how birds sound different as they get closer to a city.
Bent Hamer, who is known for his low-key comedies, such as Kitchen Stories (2003) and O’Horten (2007), also made the heartfelt adaptation of a Charles Bukowski novel, Factotum, starring Matt Dillon and Lili Taylor in 2005.
His movies are reminiscent of another Scandinavian minimalist with a sense of irony, Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki. In some of the scenes between Marie and Pi, the movie even brings to mind some of Francois Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel movies, particularly Bed & Board, in which Antoine takes a job dyeing flowers and tries to create the perfect color.
For some, this movie will be too slow and too quiet. But for those who can tolerate a story that unfolds slowly and a director who makes gentle fun of his characters, 1001 Grams will be rewarding.