A scientist obsessed with accuracy navigates the weighty issues of love and loss in this enjoyable curiosity.
“A man with one watch knows what time it is. A man with two watches is never quite sure.” Bent Hamer’s latest tale of borderline absurdity builds itself almost entirely around that rational concept. 1001 Grams is a film based on attention to detail and an unparalleled obsession with metrology. Most of the film takes place between the actual Metrology laboratories in Norway and a rather divine Parisian dynasty that is home to the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM). In an age of quantum physics and nanoparticle research, one might wonder what all the fuss over metrics is for, but Hamer’s film approaches its subject matter with just enough seriousness to prevent it from tipping the scales towards the ludicrous.
It’s very hard to describe what 1000 Grams is actually about. It is first and foremost about the kilogram and the importance in metrology of measuring just about anything, whether it’s love or other seemingly unquantifiable parts of our chaotic world. Marie (Ane Dahl Torp) is a Norwegian scientist dedicated to her task of carrying her national prototype of the kilogram back and forth to a prestigious seminar in Paris at the BIPM. Marie whizzes between Paris and Norway so often it’s hard to keep track, but one thing is certain for her: the kilo is sacred, truly sacred. A single scratch or bump to her prototype could change the weight by the tiniest percentage. There is really no explanation as to what destruction this could cause and, consequently, there is little tension to be had throughout this film. In fact, the entire plot is remarkably insignificant, making Hamer’s film more intriguing than anything else. It is a peculiar viewing experience, to say the least.
The seminar in Paris turns out to be light in content, except for the unveiling of the one and only international prototype for the kilogram. As a group of scientists huddles around the weight, their expressions look like they’re observing extra-terrestrial life when they’re really looking at the object by which all measurements of weight are governed. It sounds boring, but it’s interesting to think about what would happen if this prototype came into harm. Part of the film is made up of humourous debates around this concept, while the rest of the film focuses on Marie’s increasing misfortunes in her personal life. The recent loss of her father Ernst (played coolly by Stein Winge) is what’s mainly eating her up, which provides only a small amount insight into Marie’s character. Marie is consistently presented as isolated from the very beginning. She is infected by the solitude of her clinical lifestyle and, therefore, unable to let any deeper feelings rise above this sterile surface.
But in Marie’s restrictive world, her one source of freedom might come in the form of romance. Marie meets the young, handsome French “metric guru” Pi (Laurent Stocker), who asks Marie whether she is in favour of cleaning the prototypes of dirt (a question that’s uttered as if it’s a matter of life and death). Given Marie’s isolated nature, it takes time for her to warm up to this potential love interest, but Pi’s presence provides Hamer’s film with the chance for something joyous or, at the very least, human.
Hamer and director of photography John Christian Rosenlund do a good job realizing this unique universe with a boxed-in aesthetic. Piercing straight lines and various shades of melancholic blue appear in every frame, creating a striking canvas that’s accompanied by John Erik Kaada’s equally effective score. His sounds manage to make multiple meanings out of quirky and intriguing melodies. It is as if the film’s score came from some solitary faraway planet, one that perfectly fits Hamer’s distinct vision.
At times, 1001 Grams can feel too pessimistic, like when someone quotes the French poet Louis Aragon’s famous line “By the time we learn to live it is already too late.” Other moments are more hopeful, but Hamer still delivers them with a poker face to keep in line with his film’s tone. Hamer asks viewers to surrender to a number of his philosophical truisms, which will either generate curiosity or push viewers away. But Hamer’s look at the quantifiable and unquantifiable aspects of our existence is rich, and it gives the film an emotional core that viewers can connect to. It is a very particular film that mostly inspires curiosity but, in this case, curiosity can be a good thing.