Pelle the Conqueror [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Film Movement
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (5th June 2017).
The Film

Oscar (Best Foreign Language Film): Denmark (won) and (Best Actor in a Lead Role): Max Von Sydow (nominated) - Academy Awards, 1989
Golden Globe (Best Foreign Language Film): Denmark (won) - Golden Globes, 1989
BAFTA Film Award (Best Film not in the English Language): Per Holst and Bille August (nominated) -
Bodil (Best Film): Bille August (won), (Best Actor): Max Von Sydow (won), (Best Supporting Actor): Björn Granath (won), and (Best Supporting Actress): Karen Wegener (won) - Bodil Awards, 1988
Palme d'Or: Bille August (won) - Cannes Film Festival, 1988

Emigrating from Tomelila, Sweden to Denmark in search of better prospects, widower Lasse Karlsson (Hour of the Wolf's Max von Sydow) and his young son Pelle (Pelle Hvenegaard) discover as soon as they set foot on the docks that the wages are not so incredibly high that kids do not have to work and the whiskey does not flow like water. Judged too old by many of the landowners and factor owners to whom he offers his services, Lasse advises his son not to say yes to everything before he is finally forced to accept the offer of gentleman farmer Kongstrup (Gertrud's Axel Strøbye) of one hundred kroner for a year's work that also includes Pelle's labor. Sleeping in a chicken coup adjacent to the cows, Lasse and Pelle face abuse from their Danish superiors, servants, and fellow workers with the exception of rebellious Swedish groom Erik (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo's Björn Granath) and housekeeper Karna (Anna Lise Hirsch Bjerrum). After the lowly teenaged farm trainee (Morten Jørgensen) humiliates him, Pelle experiences the first of many disappointments as Laster blusters about killing the boy but quickly yields because he is dependent due to his own illiteracy compounded by his inability to speak Danish. Despite his love for his father, Pelle finds parental figures elsewhere, including Erik with whom he shares a dream of seeing the rest of the world as well as Mrs. Kongstrup (Astrid Villaume) whose reclusive nature, alcoholism, and unhappiness in the face of her husband's infidelity have lead to rumors that the farm is cursed and that she is a witch or a werewolf who bays at the moon. Pelle first attempts to learn Danish from Rud (Troels Asmussen), one of the many bastard children of "fornicator" Kongstrup, but his father insists that he go to school where he faces more abuse from his Danish classmates and the smug schoolmaster (John Wittig).

Based on the first of four novels about the character Pelle by Martin Andersen Nexø, the Academy Award-winning Pelle the Conqueror is not so much a single story as a portrait of a period and circumstances upon which Pelle realizes that freedom sometimes does mean running away. Realist or fantasist, Erik tells Pelle that he wants to see the rest of the world but wants to do so as a free man not outside the law, setting the long-term goal of saving up for a boat trip two years away and only resorts to violence at the possibility of losing his wages withheld until the end of his work period. Disappointed time after time by his father whose roundabout advice usually amounts to avoiding conflict ("What good does it do to make a fist when there's no strength left?") – Pelle seems motivated more than ever to find a woman for his father "who will have him" before he plans to leave with Erik; eventually setting Lasse up with Mrs. Olsen ('s ) who believes herself to be widowed since she has not heard from her boatswain husband (Karen Wegener) in years, only for the courtship to cause father and son to become the object of more derision and abuse, and Lasse's descent into alcoholism when Olsen suddenly returns. Subplots involving other characters like Mrs. Kongstrup's niece Signe (The Killing's Sofie Gråbøl) deflowered by letch Kongstrup, the socially unacceptable secret relationship between landowner's son Niels (Follow the Money's Lars Simonsen) and farmgirl Anna (Kristina Törnqvist) that ends in tragedy, Rud's mother's repeated attempts to collect money from Kongstrup for Rud's support (before the boy either runs away or is sold to the carnival as a freak), and the tragic outcome when things come to a head between Erik and Kongstrup seem to illustrate a catalogue for young Pelle who comes to understand the psychological prisons of unhappiness and hopelessness that has Pelle fleeing the security of becoming the farm's new replacement trainee (after Mrs. Konstrup has gone to extremes to wrest control from her husband) but also has Lasse at the last moment deciding that he is too tired to go with his son. The first internationally-recognized hit of director Bille August was the work that lead Ingmar Bergman to select him to help The Best Intentions, Bergman's five-hour TV miniseries/three hour feature semi-autobiographical telling of the lives of his own parents before his birth. The film was made a year after an East German TV adaptation (the Danish-born author died in Dresden).


Released theatrically by Miramax and on VHS by HBO (as well as fullscreen laserdisc by Image), Pelle the Conqueror was released to DVD first in 2001 by Anchor Bay featuring an anamorphic 1.66:1 transfer and surround tracks in English and Danish/Swedish. That edition was replaced in 2004 with a DVD from Twentieth Century Fox that was framed at 1.78:1 and featured a 5.1 remix of the English dub but only a mono version of the Danish/Swedish audio (the film was mixed in Dolby Stereo). The first Blu-ray release came from Germany's usually dependable Koch Media but, although English-friendly with a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track to accompany the German 5.1 and Danish/Swedish 2.0 stereo tracks, it featured a 1080i50 transfer. Film Movement's new 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC widescreen Blu-ray (and concurrent DVD edition) is derived from a new 2K restoration and is framed at 1.85:1 but the compositions never seem impeded. The new transfer is simply gorgeous with improved clarity in the misty opening scenes and richly renders the warm farm scenes without the overly yellow/green cast of the earlier transfers.


Dropping the optional English dub from the previous releases, Film Movement's sole audio option is an uncompressed LPCM 2.0 stereo rendering of the Danish/Swedish Dolby Stereo track. The track crisply renders dialogue and some music, but the mix as a whole is intentionally sparse, surprising us with some offscreen noises like sudden cries in the night but more emphatic of feet crunching through snow and dirt, crashing waves, wind, and hoofbeats. The optional English subtitle track has no noticeable errors and appears to be a different or at least revised translation from the earlier DVDs.


Apart from the film's theatrical trailer (1:41) and other previews, the disc's only other extra is a typically informative audio commentary by scholar Peter Cowie who is perhaps best known for his work on Criterion's Bergman flicks. He starts off this track with some background on the source novel, likening it to the Olof novels of Swedish author Eyvind Johnson. He also reveals that actor Hvenegaard was named after Nexø's Pelle character because his mother so admired the novels, that August took over the adaptation from Per Olov Enquist (The Hour of the Lynx) when he felt that the writer was departing too far from the source and incorporating his own autobiographical material, and the design choices of production designer Anna Asp (Fanny and Alexander). Cowie also provides some historical context to film, Scandinavian emigration, and illiteracy during the period. He also discusses August's career and his collaboration with Bergman. Included with the disc is a 16-page booklet, featuring film essay by Terence Rafferty.


Bille August's Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Language Film gets a beautiful thirtieth anniversary edition Blu-ray release from Film Movement.


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