• Pelle The Conqueror

    Released by: Film Movement
    Released on: May 30th, 2017.
    Director: Bille August
    Cast: Max von Sydow, Pelle Hvenegaard, Björn Granath
    Year: 1987
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    The Movie:

    The 1989 Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film Pelle The Conqueror, set at the end of the 19th century and based on the Danish novel by Martin Andersen Nexø, tells the story of Lasse (Max von Sydow, who was Oscar nominated for his work here in the Best Actor category, though he didn’t win) his young son Pelle (Pelle Hvenegaard). Recently widowed, Lasse, an aging and impoverished man, has decided that he and Pelle will join up with some other immigrants and move from their native Sweden, where they worked the family farm, to start a new life in Denmark on the island of Bornholm.

    After successfully making the journey by boat, they take up residence at a large Danish farm where the owners mistreat them and exploit them. As they face one challenge after the next, they deal with the terrible living conditions and horrible work environment continuing to hope for a better life.

    A grim and moving drama, Pelle The Conqueror (which took home the prestigious Palme D’Or when it played Cannes) is an unflinching look at how those with money would, and continue to, take advantage of those who do not. Pelle’s lot in life has nothing to do with his worth ethic or his personality. He is a good man who clearly wants the best for his son. He does what he can with what he has to provide for him, but when the reality of their new life in Denmark sets in, it’s clear that he can only do so much. Likewise, Pelle tries his best to acclimate to his new surroundings and do what he can to improve things even going so far as to learn his new homeland’s native tongue so as not to be treated as such an outsider by his Danish comrades. It doesn’t make much of a difference.

    The performances in the film are excellent. Young Pelle Hvenegaard creates a wholly sympathetic character, we feel for him. Really though, it’s Von Sydow, a titan of an actor, who makes the biggest impression here. His Lasse is a tragic figure, but clearly his devotion to his son and his hope to eventually make a go of things endear him to us. It’s hard not to feel for the father and son team as they experience all that the story throw at them. Rarely is an audience able to see such true heroism in the efforts of a man who so consistently fails.

    Production values in the film are top notch. The cinematography from Jorgen Persson is beautiful in its effectiveness. The landscapes where the story plays out are not always warm, welcoming or even pleasant but there is something visually appealing about the rugged terrain. There’s also great visual contrast in the film when we see the conditions that the workers are forced to live in and the clothes they have no choice but to wear when compared to the house and attire that the farm owners afford themselves. Stefan Nilsson’s score works hand in hand with the visuals to create an impressive mood for the film that ties into the storyline really nicely.


    Film Movement brings Pelle The Conqueror to Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfers framed at what appears to be the film’s original aspect ratio at 1.85.1. Press materials state that the film has undergone a new 2k restoration, presumably from the 35mm negative, and it looks really nice on Blu-ray. Colors are nicely defined, black levels are solid and skin tones look good. There’s very little in the way of print damage, just the odd speck here and there, while detail and texture are quite impressive.

    The only audio mix on the disc is a Danish language DTS-HD 2.0 mix with optional subtitles offered in English only. This isn’t the most dynamic mix as the film is pretty much entirely dependent on dialogue rather than action set pieces, but the quality of the track is just fine. The score also sounds quite good and there are now audible defects to report here.

    The main extra on the disc is an audio commentary by film scholar Peter Cowie. There’s a lot of focus here on the performances and how they play out as the characters develop but we also get a bit of a history lesson on the film as Cowie talks up the director’s involvement and the novel by Martin Andersen Nexø on which the film was based.

    Aside from that, the disc includes menus and chapter selection. Included inside the keepcase alongside the disc is an insert booklet containing an essay on the film written by Terrence Rafferty.

    The Final Word:

    Pelle The Conqueror is hardly feel good movie of the year material, but the film tells a an engaging story. On top of that the performances are excellent across the board and the visuals are often impressive. Film Movement’s Blu-ray release is light on extras, though the commentary is interesting, but the presentation is very good. Recommended for those with a taste for somber drama.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!