The appeal of a quirky little Norwegian film called Kitchen Stories, released earlier this year and largely ignored on this side of the Atlantic, arises from an unlikely source: a series of domestic studies conducted in the 1950s by a group of Swedish efficiency experts. Eighteen observers, perched up in chairs like tennis referees, began studying the kitchen routines of single men living alone in a remote Norwegian farming district, recording in silence their every movement from stove to table, cupboard to sink. This may sound like a Monty Python sketch, but director Bent Hamer has some other things in mind: He not only satirizes the follies of petty bureaucrats and social engineers, but creates a touching meditation on the ways human beings grapple with loneliness and how life's possibilities can get the best of pessimism. The main players are a mild-mannered researcher (Tomas Norström), the suspicious, long-faced farmer he's assigned to watch (Joachim Calmeyer), a sick horse and a tractor in sore need of a tuneup. In the end, humanity trumps bogus science as the two men defy the rules and embark on a strange friendship.