If Bille August ever made a great film in his entire life, this is it. His 1987 release, Pelle Erobreren (Pelle The Conqueror), captured the hearts of many with a simplistic story filled with a profound meaning in life and its tribulations. This film won a duly deserved Oscar for Best Foreign Film, and also scored a deserving Best Actor nomination for Max Von Sydow, who arguably gives out the performance of his lifelong career.Pelle (Pelle Hvenegaard, ironic, isnít it?), and his father Lasse (Von Sydow), are traveling along with a bunch of other Swedish emigrants at the end of the 19th century towards Denmark, looking for work and a better future. Lasse is a widow of advanced age, but still dreams about finding glory and a woman in Denmark, and encourages his son that theyíll get a job the moment they step off the boat. That unfortunately doesnít happen. Farmers inspect the emigrants like cattle and ignore Lasse and his son and go with the other younger emigrants. After a few hours, a farmer called Kongstrup (Axel Strobye) decides to give them a chance, which Lasse defiantly accepts. So theyíre hired, but throughout the film, theyíre treated like the scum of the earth. Pelle and Lasse are hounded by the Farm Manager (Erik Paaske) and the Trainee (Morten Jorgensen), and Pelle is also hounded by the kids in school, even though he starts learning Danish. Seeing that his father is too old and too weary to be able to help him, Pelle sets of to find the meanings of life by himself, and throughout his stance in the farm, he learns many truths within the community that he lives in, some good and some horribly bad, but then he realizes that his fatherís pursuit of the dream they once shared has dwindled, and that he must carry on with that dream on his own.
"Heart Wrenching And Compelling"
There is little that I can say about this filmís richness and high points, and if I did, I would be spoiling everything for you. The best way to really appreciate how good this film is is by watching it. I can only say this: Whatís great about it, is the way the film sets up its story, in the most simplistic of ways. More than just a character study, itís a study of life on a foreign country, and in society as a whole. It tells us the crimes and the punishments, both moral and social, that many people experience and endure. Some people will find a few scenes a little extreme, but in anyways, these are told with utmost realism, and our main character Pelle is witness to all of it. The way the story has been constructed, itís more like an adventure film than just a simple drama, since Pelle guides us through his world and we see what he sees, and makes us draw our own conclusions. The ending of the film left me heartbroken, but with a deep message in life, and this final piece makes us reflect about the struggles that many people must endure in life, and how different or more challenging our personal struggles are. Many people struggling and succeeding in life will relate to this film, because thatís what it is, a testament in succeeding in life, and overcoming the odds. Lasse pretty much represents a guide for Pelle, and also another adventure within itself since Lasse is trying to overcome the loss of his wife, and trying to start a new life in Foreign Denmark, but a manís age canít go as far as his dreams would like him to.
Bille August shouldíve stuck to do these types of films. He has the talent to make a good film, just check his early coming-of-age film Twist And Shout, and his collaboration with the legendary Ingmar Bergman in The Best Intentions, but it seems that his ambition got the best of him, and tackled a subject which he had little experience in The House Of Spirits, which turned out to be a misled and ponderous piece, and then sunk to unthinkable depths with the crappy Smillaís Sense Of Snow, and the wretched and again completely misled adaptation of the Victor Hugo classic Les Miserables. Seems that ambition indeed, got the best of August, and so far I havenít heard from him since. But hey, lets get back to the time when August was great, and he does a great job with this film. August doesnít forget any important detail in both his screenplay (based on the novel by Martin Andersen Nexo) and his direction, and every element falls in place where it should. I praise him for his work. I knew Max Von Sydow only by reputation, since heís one of the brilliant stock of actors that the aforementioned Bergman brought to mainstream stardom back in the 50s, 60s and 70s, but after watching this film, it just backs up everything Iíve heard from him, since he shines in his role of Lasse, which is a very complex one and pulls it off with style. I compare his performance to that of Anthony Hopkins in The Remains Of The Day and to Peter Fondaís Uleeís Gold, since all three of them portray quiet, ordinary men with inner complexities of their own, and playing those types of roles is much harder and requires more talent than playing a cripple or a retarded person. Pelle Hvenegaard is also great here, and he pulls of a role that is pretty much the focus of the entire movie. The rest of the cast was also great. Also, some great photography there by Jorgen Persson, which gives us a good look at rural Denmark during the four seasons of the year.In the end, this film is pretty much a one of a kind experience. You have to see it for yourself to really understand it and understand its values that it contains. Yeah its in foreign language (duh), and contains subtitles (duh again!), but hey, canít you read subtitles? Are you that dumb? Just watch the movie, its more important than caring about subtitles. See it.
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originally posted: 08/29/02 17:37:45