1001 Grams2014 has been a very good year for Norwegian cinema on the international festival circuit. In February, a pair of exports from this Scandinavian nation attracted favorable attention at the Berlinale, where Kraftidioten (In Order of Disappearance) appeared in the Competition division and Blind played in the Panorama program. This fall has seen 1001 Grams garner comparable praise after showings in Toronto and London. The three films share an engaging sense of quirkiness in the writing, ultra-professional and understated acting, clean, crisp cinematography, and terrifically paced and assured directing.

1001 Grams was recently announced as Norway’s entry into the Academy Award competition for Best Foreign Language Film, an odd choice in that it could easily be considered the weakest of the three films. While engaging and pleasant, the film is also slight and ephemeral. 1001 Grams is like an exchange of smiles with a pretty girl on a late summer day, genuinely nice for the moment it lasts, but easily forgotten.

Marie (Ane Dahl Torp) lives a well calibrated life, working as a scientist at the Norwegian Bureau of Weights and Measures, where she is being groomed by her father, the director of the institute, to take over guardianship of the country’s kilogram prototype. Dressed in a self-imposed uniform of button blouse, slightly above the knee skirt, nude pantyhose, and sensible heels, Marie is always the epitome of the cool, blonde Norwegian beauty, while driving a boxy electric car and living in a home that looks like an IKEA advertisement.

Lately, the scales have shifted for Marie, and her life is falling out of balance. Her marriage has broken up, and she must wait in her car some evenings as her ex-husband goes through the house, disassembling their previous life together. Her father, Ernst (Stein Winge), is drinking again and becoming increasingly sentimental. She finds him asleep in the hay at the family farm; when awake, he is filled with an old man’s regrets.

1001 Grams is about Marie reconciling the exactitude of her work with the errata of her personal life. She does this by hand carrying the Norwegian prototype of the kilogram to a seminar in Paris at the Bureau international des poids et mesures, where she meets Pi (Laurent Stocker) , a French colleague who has escaped the rat race of the international weights and measures racket by retreating to gardening and tracking bird calls. Marie learns to deal with loss and renewal, yet she cannot stray far from a scale to literally weigh the meaning of life.

Much of the humor of the film, and 1001 Grams is a restrained, gentle comedy, comes through showing the absolute seriousness with which those engaged professionally in this field approach their work. There is a wonderful shot of the seminar participants walking in a line, each with a carrier holding his or her nation’s prototype. We hear the apocalyptic fears of those who foresee the possibility of there being no international standard – war and chaos are the only possible outcomes.

Torp is exceptionally good in the lead role, which is deceptively challenging. She is called upon to show vulnerability and discipline simultaneously, to be weary and worn and beautiful and magnetic at the same time. Director/screenwriter Bent Hamer coaxes a wonderful performance from her and stellar support from the rest of the cast including Winge and Stocker. The film’s end may strike some as a tad too sentimental, although it is generally consistent with this low-key fairy tale for adults from our Norwegian friends.

Three stars.

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