Movie Review

Movie Review: Pelle the Conqueror

Directed by Bille August, Produced by Per Holst, Cinematography by Jőrgen Persson

1987, 157 minutes, colour, Danish with English subtitles

I don’t know where I’ve been all my life, but can’t believe that I haven’t seen this movie until now—2011! First off, I am somewhat biased, since I like most films directed by Bille August. The setting of this movie is late nineteenth century Denmark—filmed on location on Bornholm island.

   The protagonists, Lasse Karlsson—played by Max von Sydow—and his young son Pelle—played by Pelle Hvenegaard—have just immigrated from their native Sweden to Denmark in search of a better life. Lasse’s wife and Pelle’s mother has recently died. They are full of dreams, hopes and expectations of a bright, new future inDenmark. However, after being rejected by several employers because he is regarded as “too old,” Lasse and Pelle are hired as labourers on the aristocratic Kongstrup farm.

   Once they arrive, they face several unpleasant surprises, which threaten to rob them of a hopeful future. They live in poor conditions; the foreman is both prejudiced against them and a tyrant; Pelle is bullied by his classmates in school, who are equally as prejudiced as the foreman against immigrants; the food is poor; in short, the farm workers are treated like slaves.

   Yet, the love between father Lasse and son Pelle keeps their hopes and dreams for the future alive. This beautiful film is much more than a boy coming-of-age story. The film, in addition to exploring the significance of a father and son relationship; also addresses the following motifs: loneliness and aging, age discrimination, prejudice and discrimination against immigrants, labour relations, bullying, class divisions and the abuse of power, the power of hopes and dreams, and sacrificing one’s life for others.

   Although the closing scene of the movie is quite moving; my favourite segment was when Niels Køller a young farmer who has lost the love of his life now grief-struck, feels responsible for it—endeavours to do something sacrificial by managing to save the lives of sailors whose ship is capsizing, only to have the ice-laden sea claim his life.

   I appreciated this movie for many reasons—the acting by the protagonists in particular was superb, the cinematography was inspiring, the music was appropriate, the multilevel motifs of the storyline seemed to work well. All-in-all, a movie worth seeing.