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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

HAMSUN (1996)

Swedish filmmaker Jan Troell uncovers a family drama right out of August Strindberg in the last act of the life of Norwegian author/Nobel Laureate Knut Hamsun, and his wife & family. Max von Sydow & Ghita Norby are simply magnificent as a mutually dependent husband & wife who can’t bear the sight of each other. And, more than just the story of an aging literary lion who terrorizes his family as his talent recedes, there’s extra historical interest in the enthusiastic support they gave to the Nazi occupation. Troell only lets us see the paths that brought them to their appalling (and highly unpopular) positions peripherally. The roots of Hamsun’s long festering hatred of the British apparently dated back to WWI, but are never spelled out. This has the advantage of avoiding simplistic ‘cause-and-effect’ answers on motivation, and lends unusual complexity to the portrait of willful political ignorance so often seen in brilliant, but congenitally stubborn people. Happily, that’s a condition which seems to have bypassed Troell who helms, writes, edits & shoots his work and who took a great risk in letting Sydow act in Swedish, Norby in Danish and everyone else in Norwegian. (Heck, it was Greek to me.) Er, except, that is, for Hitler & his gang who speak German in the devastating meeting Hamsun has with the Fuhrer. One of many highlights in this remarkable, under-seen film.

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