Pelle The Conqueror (1987)


Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BBBB

Original title:  Pelle Erobreren

Denmark/Sweden, 1987.  Per Holst Filmproduktion, Svensk Filmindustri, Odyssey Entertainment.  Screenplay by Bille August, , , based on the novel by .  Cinematography by .  Produced by .  Music by .  Production Design by .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by .  

Max von Sydow and son  (who, in a twist of fate that I’m sure was irresistible to the marketing department, was actually named after the book this epic drama is based on), show up on Danish shores after having left hardship behind in Tomelilla, Sweden.  The only work that the poor and illiterate but optimistic man can get is working the stables of a landowner’s farm, which he immediately takes and which plunges him and his boy into the various dramas at the harshly run estate.  Through the eyes of young Pelle we see the ways that life breaks his father down bit by bit, while elsewhere a maid has a romance with a wealthy man’s son, a worker has constant conflict with the brutal foreman that reaches a devastating conclusion, and life at the local schoolhouse is rife with mischievous boys who don’t take too well to foreigners.  The spine of this sumptuous, involving drama is the gradual awakening to the complicated nature of life by this young boy, played with full energy that often reaches shrill degrees by young Hvenegaard and that is easily contrasted by von Sydow’s heartbreaking depth and sincerity.  Director Bille August pays great tribute to his mentor Ingmar Bergman and brings out the details of the period, from the beauty of a summer picnic to the ugly realities of the exploitation of these workers, but don’t be surprised if the more than slight insistence on tragic outcomes feels, from time to time, contrived.  The Best Intentions would do a much richer job of contrasting life’s woes with its joys.

Academy Award:  Best Foreign Language Film
Nomination: Best Actor (Max von Sydow)

Cannes Film Festival Award:  Palme D’Or

European Film Awards:  Best European Actor (Max von Sydow); Best Young Actor/Actress (Pelle Hvenegaard)
Nominations: Best European Film; Best European Supporting Actor (Bjorn Granath)

Golden Globe Award:  Best Foreign Language Film

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