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If you can’t stand the chill, stay out of Kitchen Stories. Norwegian writer-director Bent Hamer’s painstakingly washed-out comedy resembles an Aki Kaurismäki film, and not one that’s pumped by Finnish rockabilly. Yet this modestly charming movie doesn’t start as an account of Scandinavian ennui. It opens in Stockholm in the early ’50s, at a time when postwar industrialists were confidently turning from military materiel to household products. At the Home Research Institute, efficiency experts think they’ve maximized the usefulness of the kitchen used by everyday Swedish housewives, so they’ve now decided to investigate the more idiosyncratic kitchen behavior of single men. And not just any single men, either: The new research subjects are rustic, crusty, and Norwegian. A convoy of cars pulling small trailers crosses the border, after which one of the prissy Swedes quickly becomes ill from the disorientation of having to drive on the right. (Clearly, Hamer’s movie is not designed for viewers with no stake in the cultural differences between Norway and Sweden.) After the caravan arrives, the film concentrates on the relationship between a Swedish researcher, Folke (Tomas Norström), and his subject, Isak (Joachim Calmeyer). Folke is supposed to sit high above Isak, in a chair like that of a tennis referee, and peruse the old coot making tea, eating sausages, and getting drunk. Observers are instructed not to fraternize with their subjects, however, so the Swede is required to live in his trailer outside the house. Initially, Isak won’t even let Folke inside, but the two gradually become friends, their rapport encouraged by tobacco, booze, and boredom. The movie’s claustrophobic circumstances and essentially all-male cast suggests a becalmed, domestic Master and Commander, and its final twist recalls a dozen faux-Freudian cat-and-mouse thrillers. Indeed, despite a few late-breaking, almost dramatic developments, Kitchen Stories is as underwhelming as its jazz-in-the-key-of-low score. It’s mildly funny, fleetingly poignant, and just a bit dull. —Mark Jenkins