J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Monday, May 04, 2015

1001 Grams: Lighter than it Sounds

Drug dealers will tell you the weight of kilos can vary quite considerably. Scientists also suspect this is true, but they must prove it with data. Towards that end, Marie Ernst will be lugging the Norwegian prototype kilo to a conference in Paris, where a new international standard will hopefully be set. With her life at a crossroads, the trip might just offer an opportunity for personal discovery as well in Bent Hamer’s 1001 Grams (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Ernst’s day-to-day responsibilities largely entail certifying various public pumps and scales to ensure the measurements are on the up-and-up. It is the sort of solitary detail-oriented work she seems to be well suited for. Having recently divorced her caddish husband, she has no real social life to speak of. Aside from her father Ernst Ernst, the director of the laboratory, Marie Ernst has little meaningful human contact. When her more garrulous father falls ill, she assumes his place at the Paris conference, where there are plenty aloof delegates quite like her. However, the institute has a surprisingly smart and engaging gardener named Pi (an unmeasurable constant, you see), whose company she finds pleasant.

Unfortunately, Ernst will have to deal with some family business before she can finally take control over her own life. Worse still, she has a mishap with the Norwegian national kilo. In isolation, all the fuss over a weight in a bell jar seems rather ridiculous, but Hamer makes the characters’ passion for precision measurement look like a noble eccentricity.

As a filmmaker, Hamer is one of the few stylists who can rival the whimsical visuals of Wes Anderson and even Jacques Tati. Frame after frame in 1001 Grams has such a strikingly composed look, one wonders how long it took Hamer to artfully arrange each scene. There is always the danger that sort of self-consciously idiosyncratic approach can descend into overly precious quirkiness. However, 1001 Grams is permeated with such maturity and grace, it never becomes cloying or shticky in any manner.

Ana Dahl Torp plays Ernst with a profoundly Scandinavian reserve, but the way she slowly and subtly expresses her stirrings of an emotional awakening is beautiful to behold. Laurent Stocker of the Comédie Française comes across like a nice earthy chap as Pi, while Stein Winge adds gravity and humanity as old Ernst Ernst, but Torp must quietly carry 1001 Grams for long stretches on her own. It is a feat she repeatedly pulls off quite remarkably.

There are numerous references, analogies, and call-backs revolving around the act of measurement that could have been absolutely grating in the hands of another filmmaker. Yet, Hamer makes them feel effortlessly light. He fluidly guides the pieces together into a seamless whole. A truly lovely film, 1001 Grams is highly recommended for general audiences when it opens this Friday (5/8) in New York, at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

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