Pelle the Conqueror (1987) Poster

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Outstanding Male Lead
Terry Corbet12 March 2005
Max von Sydow has probably been given proper recognition for his body of work in Europe, but I don't think we have acknowledged that talent sufficiently in America.

This is a superbly made film for which more knowledgeable reviewers than I can make appropriate comments concerning everything from the original story line to the scenic shots covering changing weather and the years of growth of all the characters.

My only contribution is this: Where else do you have a male lead role where certain aspects of being a hero are necessary to the role, yet the fact of the story is that the male lead is failing in almost every, public aspect of his life. Mr. von Sydow pulls it off. He is a failure, yet he has the stature of a hero and it's not just in the eyes of his adolescent son.

I don't think any of the current generation of male leads could have made this film -- perhaps Costner, perhaps Newman. But that's my point; if any of them had crafted this performance, they would have received recognition. Max von Sydow gave the performance of a lifetime and we didn't even know where to classify the film. The film and the male lead should have won for best in class in the year of release. As another reviewer has noted -- this is a gem.
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I am speechless
ninoguapo31 March 2007
Sometimes I stumble on a movie which all of the sudden turns out to be a real masterpiece. Pelle the Conqueror really surprised me – touching story told in a unique way. Pelle is a boy from Sweden who immigrates to Denmark with his dad after the death of his mother. They are both full of hope – hope for a new beginning – and there is a scene in the boat on which Pelle wants to hear over and over about the new country they will be living at: "Tell me about it again, papa. It's very different this new country.

  • You'll hardly… - You'll hardly believe your eyes. They put raisins in the pork roastand butter on your bread…Some places they put butter on your bread.- And kids are free all day.

  • Yes, Pelle, yes. Wages are so incredibly high, that kids…That kids don't have to work." It sounds too good to be true – may be not for you – but imagine what those words meant for a boy who is used to live in a missy , probably due to the hard life he had to live after the death of his mother. As soon as the boat reaches the shore the reality of this new world came out of the dream mist. Finding employment is not as easy especially considering the age of the Pele's father and the fact that he has a small boy with him. At the end they are offered an employment at a large farm, but find the life would present many challenges to them.

The acting is very good – the young Pelle Hvenegaard who plays the role of Pelle is so good that one can thing that he has a dozen of movies in his carrier and probably that is the reason for which 2 years after the movie is released he wins two award for the Best Young Actor in 1988 at the European Film Awards and for Best Young Actor in a Foreign Film in a Foreign Filmat the young artists awards for his role in Pelle the Conqueror.

I watched this movie with constant hope to see happiness in the eyes of Pelle and the moments in which he felt happy was shining like a real diamonds surrounded by the dust of the harsh live he had to deal with. Although Pelle is often refused friendships from the local Danish boys he shows his good heart befriending a boy who has some physical disability – and their friendship through a little odd at times shows that people can find someone to care for , even in the toughest places.

Pelle the Conqueror is classic movie and although some may thing that the story gets a bit depressing at times I recommend it to anyone who treasure excellent coming of age movies.
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Von Sydow at his very best, but still upstaged by a boy!
Sonatine976 August 2000
Warning: Spoilers

Whenever I see a film starring Max Von Sydow, I can expect the very best in quality acting from him, regardless of whether the actual film is lousy or not.

Sydow isn't perhaps all that internationally well known, although he's appeared in a number of high profile Hollywood films such as The Exorcist and Three Days of the Condor.

But he really shines in his native Scandinavian homeland especially under aspiring & inspiring directors such as Bergman & August. The great thing about Sydow is his quality & depth to play any character a director requires; to me he is on a par with Olivier.

In this Bille August adapted screenplay we witness the plight of a father (Sydow) and young son (Pelle Hvenegaard) looking for work in Denmark having sailed from their native home of Sweden at the turn of the 20th Century.

Pelle initially idolises his father seeing him as his guardian where his life will be all play, play & play. But the bitter reality is so different - they end up as cowhands for a wealthy country baron. Life is hard even for young boys, and Pelle finds it doubly hard because he is picked on at school because he is a poor immigrant.

Sydow is old & widowed, a man who has had to work all his life, yet his faith in God is undeterred even though he knows he can no longer live up to the young boy's eager expectations. For in spite of all his grandiose words to the boy about whipping those who beat him, when he actually comes face to face with his superiors he crumbles & cowers; all witnessed by a disbelieving Pelle.

By the end of the film Pelle wants to leave this tortured existence and look for a new life in America; yet his disillusioned father no longer has the strength or the will to follow his son's dreams.

A quite remarkable film both in content & style. Everything is so underplayed yet so dynamic; August doesn't have to try too hard to give his actors enough scope to understand their characters and neither does he have to underscore the grim & brutal realities of seeing immigrants ill treated.

There are various examples where he could have gone into explicit detail in order to move us & shock us, but he doesn't. Instead he pulls away from the edge and lets us imagine what may have happened.

In addition the photography by Jörgen Persson is breathtaking; especially the winter scenes of the farm and the nearby coast covered in ice. Persson also does a lot of fixed portrait shots of the leads, spending 20 or 30 seconds framing a face while letting the music & other background noise fade so that there is nothing to distract us as we look into the eyes of the character on view.

But the real honours have to go to the two male leads; Sydow gives his usual sterling performance as the down-trodden man who still tries to be his son's hero. One of most moving scenes is near the end where a blossoming romance with a middle-aged woman comes to a dramatic conclusion and he turns to the demon drink and finally turns his back on God, while his son looks on - pure genius & gut wrenching stuff!

However, even Sydow is placed in the shadows by the young boy, Pelle Hvenegaard. It's as if the part was specially made for this talented youth, especially with his facial looks & big eyes. The film doesn't overpower Hvenegaard, he is not intimidated by the presence of the great Sydow or any of his elders. Instead he plays his own part with a great deal of innocent charm & maturity.

**** SPOILER *****

Perhaps the most emotional scene of all is right at the end of the film, where the boy finally realises that his father is not his saviour after all, just a broken old man with a baggage of broken dreams. The boy has to move on and follow his own dreams in spite of Sydow begging him to stay. The last scene where they stand out in the snow covered field, they shake hands before the boy leaves his father for a better future, is truly gut-wrenching & so moving!

**** SPOILER END ****

The film is not wildly available on tape of DVD, but I urge you to see it if you can. You will be moved in so many different ways.

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Deserves all the awards it won
room33725 March 1999
I was very surprised to see there is only one comment for this film despite of many awards it won. I watched it several years ago, but I can still feel the winter sunshine of Denmark and the boy (I really felt as he felt)who acted as if there were no script or camera around. The scene(you have to see it),the half-witted boy volunteered to get beaten,still keeps me thinking. I wish I was an English to express well enough. I cannot say this is my favorite, but for the first and the last time, I watched a film with intense near physical pain. I don't know whom to recommend but watch it when you feel calm rather than feel good. But it's not depressing at all.
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European cinema at its best
kipkuhmi27 June 2000
In our days where every director tries to copy the Hollywood way of film making, 'Pelle' freshens our spirits like a healthy European winter breeze. It's all that what Old World cinema stands for: thought-provoking, real and full of silent passion. Both actors are marvelous in their roles, and especially Max von Sydow who has played every character from super-villains to torn crusaders in his career gives a performance that will forever shine out as a master example that you don't have to pretend you're a death sick, blind, and mentally retarded neurotic alcoholic to win at least the Oscar nomination.
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A beautiful portrayal of immigration and dreams
Kritic-323 July 1999
Pelle The Conqueror is one of the best films I have ever seen. The story describes the journey of Lasse Karlsson(Max Von Sydow), and his little boy, Pelle, as they move from Sweden to Denmark. In Denmark, they hope to find a better life than in Sweden. Lasse Karlsson and his boy, however, find the Danish life brutal and hard. Finding work on a large farm, Pelle and his father struggle to survive. Pelle The Conqueror is about more than their life on this farm. It is more about the dreams of this young boy, and the inspiration, and determination he gains from his first journey. And it is at the same time about how Pelle eventually needs to move on from his father and find more from life. What a magical movie.
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Beautiful Rendering of a Difficult Life
gelman@attglobal.net24 February 2008
Pelle the Conqueror won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language film when it was originally released. Although I did not see it then, it is certainly easy to see why it received that answer. It is an unsparing tale of the life of a Swedish immigrant father and son (Max von Sydow and Pelle Hvenegaard) who have come to Denmark following the death of wife and mother and found work as laborers on a farm in a desolate seaside landscape. It is, to avoid giving details, a terrible life. I'm told that this is a very thin slice from a four-volume novel. So despite the film's 2-1/2 hour length, what we're shown is a tiny piece of a much larger canvas. Max von Sydow, a famous actor in his day, is superb as the elderly father of young Pelle but the child's role is also very well acted, and the direction by Bille August who also wrote the screenplay is unobtrusive but sure-handed. Since it is set in the 19th Century, there is nothing dated about this film. It is a masterwork.
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An exceptionally well made film that is bound to depress you...
MartinHafer25 August 2011
I can see why "Pelle the Conqueror" won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. It's exceptionally well made. However, I am warning you that although it's worth seeing, it's not a particularly pleasant film--as it's grim from start to finish...VERY, VERY grim.

The film is set in late 19th century Denmark. It begins with an older man (Max Von Sydow) and his young son, Pelle, arriving there from Sweden. According to the dad, Denmark is a land of many opportunities and there life will be so much better than it had been back home. However, soon they learn that life is dreadfully oppressive here in their new home. They are hired on as indentured servants of sorts--and even the young boy must toil very hard on this farm. In some ways, they are like slaves as the food is terrible, the hours long and there is almost no let up to the bleakness of their lives. Many awful things happen through the course of the film--murdered babies, people getting pounded in the head by a large stone, rapes, and Pelle ultimately learns that through all this, his father is a spineless wimp.

This movie does seem to illustrate just how tough life was and does a great job of showing the lives of illiterate workers, but it's also a real chore to stick with it. Lovers of art films will probably be able to stick around for the almost three hour running time--most of the rest will not. In many ways it reminds me of other Oscar-winners like "The Last Emperor" and "The English Patient"--very grim and miserable films. However, at least with "Pelle" you actually care about the characters--which makes it worth seeing IF you are very, very patient. However, if you are depressed at all, do NOT watch the film--it might just push you over the edge.
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Life As It Is
Eumenides_04 December 2010
Warning: Spoilers
At the end of the 19th century, Lasse and Pelle, father and son, cross the sea separating Sweden from Denmark in pursuit of prosperity and happiness. Lasse, a middle-aged widower, promises his son that in the new country there's work with high wages and 'kids are free all day.' It's the illusions of a hopeful emigrant. In reality they land in Denmark to work almost as slaves at a farm, bound to the owner by a poorly-paid contract that doesn't allow them to leave until they've fulfilled its term.

Bille August's Pelle The Conqueror is harsh. It's a movie about crushed illusions, xenophobia, class differences, power, economic submission, and the cost of freedom. It's not an easy, uplifting movie.

There are two character studies at the center of the film. We've all met Lasse in our life. We all know someone who is cowardly but prone to boasting, who complains about his boss but never stands up to him, who drinks when life doesn't suit him, who makes plans but never does anything to fulfill them. Max Von Sydow gives a great performance as Lasse; he has that rare ability to subtly change his facial expressions from moment to moment, which fits Lasse's mood swings, and he speaks volumes just with his eyes. To play Lasse, a frail middle-aged man, the actor adopts a stooped frame with slow movements, accentuating his weakness. This is one of those rare performances when an actor loses himself in the role he's playing. Max Von Sydow alone is reason enough to watch this movie.

Pelle Hvenegaard, who was 13 at the time, also gives an excellent performance. Pelle is the main character and Hvenegaard holds his ground when he shares a scene with the veteran actor. Pelle is his father's opposite: introspective and a sharp observer. In the farm a lively man called Erik (Björn Granath), fills Pelle's head with new dreams about America and convinces him to save his money so the two can go together. It may turn out to be another disappointment, but it's what keeps Pelle going. Unlike his father, he hasn't lost hope.

This is the conflict at the heart of the film. The scene the two actors share when Pelle asks his father to leave with him is an amazing example of acting, contrasting the two personalities perfectly, Lasse's fear of the unknown against Pelle's determination to change his life.

Besides portraying this conflict, the movie also captures the hardships and cruelty of the farm and community they live in. Right from the start they're discriminated for being Swedes, whom the Danish forearm considers a dumb people fit only for manual work. The foreman dictates the terms, he decides who can rest and when, he threatens rebels like Erik with the police. Pelle's life is even worse because he can't get along with his schoolmates. His only friend is Rut, the bastard son of farm owner and a local peasant. The movie is very critical of the ruling class too, showing its indifference and aloofness. A quick subplot neatly demonstrates the consequences of a farm girl and the son of a landowner falling in love.

Ironically, the film is beautiful to look at, especially when the camera lingers over endless ice-covered fields. There's an atmosphere of stillness and peacefulness. Bille Auguste captures all the beauty of the landscape around the farm, even if it's a deadly landscape, where men can freeze to death during winter. Even when the movie is beautiful its ultimate message seems to be: life is difficult.

Pelle The Conqueror fascinates me because it's not a distant reality it depicts. Who doesn't know what it is to have dreams crushed because of circumstances beyond our control? To be afraid of taking a chance? To submit to and confront authority? To accept life's unexpected pleasures as they come to us? Lasse and Pelle, two opposite approaches to life – resignation or hope – are always with us. This movie is harsh but not harsher than ordinary life.
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Lessons in Becoming a Man
gradyharp4 July 2010
PELLE THE CONQUEROR may now be twenty-three years old as a film but the power and beauty of this epic masterpiece from Denmark still retain the brilliance of its original 1987 theatrical release. Based on a four volume novel by Martin Andersen Nexø the screenplay by writer/director Bille August, Per Olov Enquist, and Bjarne Reuter granted takes only a small portion of the original story and that explains why so much of what happens in this 2 1/2 hour film is only vaguely explained, but the end result is a marvelous drama of the relationship of a father (Lassefar, brilliantly realized by the venerable Max von Sydow), who has pride but has not the courage of his convictions, and a son (Pelle, a masterpiece of young acting by Pelle Hvenegaard) who dreams of finding a life better than the bitterly poor existence he shares with the father he loves. The film takes place in Denmark near the turn of the 19th century over the course of a year and during that time the Pelle encounters peer prejudice from being a Swedish immigrant who has traveled to Denmark for the good life, class distinction between the wealthy landowners and the poverty stricken workers, the double standard of morals of the learned 'role models', death, physical abuse, young love between two lovely people who out of fear drown their infant at birth, the harsh realities of gathering sustenance from laboring the land and the sea, the bonds of true friendship with a bastard child of the land owner, and the disappointment of losing hope of conquering the world by means of accompanying a friend who must remain a vassal for two years who becomes brain damaged in an alteration with the foreman. Yet through all of these lessons Pelle learns about the survival of the fittest and despite all odds being against him, strikes out toward the frozen sea to await his ship of fortune.

This is a film about dreams and realities, about surviving physical and mental stresses, about adapting to the seasons and the struggles of indentured life. The stench of the farm and the grace of the snowfields are captured with amazing perfection by cinematographer Jörgen Persson and the mood of this film's story is accompanied by the music of Stefan Nilsson. The cast is huge and uniformly excellent, much due to the sensitive direction by Bille August. This is a classic film, one that is enjoyed more with repeated viewings. This is definitely one for the home library. Breathtaking.

Grady Harp
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Again..a pleasant surprise!
vdg27 April 2004
Very few films can stand up so well as this one. I was very pleasant surprised when I got the DVD from the public library and I realized that I had and in my hands an unknown gem. Starting with the costumes, that are probably the most realistic ones I've seen in many movies; the actors that just perfect for their parts (specially the kids..) and finishing with a brilliant director that to me was quite unknown( I realized later that is the same one from `Misérables, Les'). If there is something missing or maybe not as good as the rest of the film is the MUSIC. Sometimes it lives up to the quality of the movie, but most of the time is just missing or is not really appropriate for the particular scene..sorry, but that's my opinion! Most of the people think that the characters are not well developed and not coherent , but to me adaptation of the book is always hard to follow, so maybe that's why you get the feeling that something is missing… The movie ranks on top of my `all times favorites', a true European masterpiece!
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A true Masterpiece
ralphdl19 June 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I saw this film in the theater when it was released and it has always stayed with me.

From the first scene that opens like a Danish or Dutch oil painting to the last scene when the father says goodbye to his son in the depths of winter knowing he will never see him again….this film is indeed a masterpiece.

Every scene is a painting and Max Von Sydow and Pelle Hyenegaard are perfect. The character actors, if in fact they were actors, were sometimes disturbingly authentic.

The story is simple. A father searching for a new wife to take care of himself and especially his son while at the same time struggling to survive in very difficult times made even more difficult by the relentless weather.

This is not an upbeat film by any means. It is, however, a triumph of spirit and the love of a father for his son and the son's realization that he has to leave and his father cannot come with him. A new life for the worn out father is not possible in the new world. He accepts that only his young son can have the chance that they cannot have in Denmark…he turns and walks away.

You will never forget this film.
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A classic coming of age film.
joninfinity14 April 2004
Pelle the Conquerer is an excellent film for its genre. This, a classic coming of age film, is told in a sincere, brutally honest way. There is a sense of realism here, without a sugar coated happy ending. A child, learning the harsh lessons of life, yet undeterred in his thirst for 'conquering' his own, emerging world. The DVD version is 150 minutes long, this, sadly cut down from the film's original release of 160 minutes. What a shame, in the interest of time, to take away from the directors vision. Max von Sydow turns in another fine performance, but the movie belongs to it's young star. His only film, I am sorry to say. Excellent, inspired....
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Marvel comparable with the Egypt Pyramids, but unrecognized by the film critics
ediklau1 January 2011
I guess I can write a complete book as a review of this film. I can't even believe such a story could so perfectly complete every point of what a perfect film must be and an excellent story and a perfect lesson of wisdom and life in the same time, just 150'. It's one of the top five best films I've ever seen. I could only compare it with the all wonders of mankind throughout History. I'll never forget many scenes of the film (even my usual absolute lack of memory) and the magic night I saw it with my family (that time 2 boys of 9 and 12 years, and my wife) we got stared from start to end, in complete silence, enjoying every moment in full expectation, the kids understood perfectly all the film, also my wife and me (of course I cried for me in silence). We saw the film in the LCD screen of my PC in my office room; we were first having the new LCD monitor, not so comfortably sitting, and a little close to the screen, but all that didn't mind. We got one of the deepest gathering unforgettable emotion of our whole family lives. Advice: Watch the film in calm silence, better in Winter, better by night, not in bed. Expect some day justice is made to the film, director and actors, giving it the celebrity it deserves.
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Hard Work and Dreams on the Horizon
thinker169127 October 2004
Max Von Sydow gives a stirring performance as an immigrant father with an enduring dream of conquering the world. Realizing his failure, he instills the dream in his son. Together, they seek a better life in the new land, but are confronted with harsh conditions and a bleak economic system, systemic of poverty and prejudice. The film locations and the fine acting enhance this Danish import. It should be noted that Von Sydow' character is a man possessed with inner strength and is unafraid of the punishing work and low pay, yet in several parts of the story, the father which his son has come to admire, retreats from the simple promises he has given his son. consequentially, the boy learns to accept his father as just an ordinary man with an enduring dream. Don't we all? ***
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A masterpiece
K-Hjorth24 July 1999
This is the first word that comes to mind when I think of Pelle Erobreren. I've watched this movie several times now during the last 10 years and it gets better every time. You feel exactly what Pelle goes through, and the movie gives a good description of how life was in Denmark (and Scandinavia) many years ago - the difference between rich and poor, the difference between having accepted your life and wanting chances. Pelle Hvenegaard acts like a professional... Too bad we haven't seen him in other movies. I give it 10!
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One of the best films about immigration and father - son relationship
Galina10 October 2005
If any film ever deserves a sequel, "Pelle the Conqueror" is it. In the admirable winner of both the Palme d'Or at Cannes and the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film, Max von Sydow (in his only Oscar nominated performance) is Lasse, a Swedish middle- aged widower who takes his young son Pelle from impoverished ninetieth century Sweden to Denmark in search and hope of finding a better life. Because of his age and lack of any specific job skills, Lasse is forced to become a laborer on a farm, with Pelle helping him out. You know, when my family and I first came to America in 1991, one of our new friends, himself a "new American" told us one thing that I always remember, "No matter what, every immigrant is going to eat a lot of dirt, some - more, some- less". Lasse and Pelle of Billie August's superb drama had been served plenty of that meal – they had to sleep in a former chicken coop, they are poor, Pelle is bullied by kids at the local school. Lasse meets a nice local woman whose husband has been lost at sea and wants to marry her but the husband returns…Lasse and his son will go through many of cruelties and indignities together but they always remain devoted to each other. Their relationship is not only of a son and his father but also of two loyal friends. In the end, Pelle has realized that the farm is no place for him, and I want to know what happens to him and to his father next – but there is no sequel for this involving, moving, and simply magnificent movie yet. 9.5/10
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A touching masterpiece, much better than most Hollywood movies...
haifengg11 August 2000
This is one of the best foreign movies I've ever seen. The actors performed very well. And the director has done a good job too. The story is touching. It's a must-see masterpiece, much better than most Hollywood movies.
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"Epic, humane, atmospheric and heartfelt..."
Sindre Kaspersen29 January 2013
Danish screenwriter, producer and director Bille August's fifth feature film which he co-wrote with Danish author and screenwriter Bjarne Reuter, Swedish author Per Olov Enquist and Swedish author Max Lundgren (1937-2005), is based on the first part of a tetralogy novel from 1906-1910 by Danish writer Martin Andersen Nexø (1869-1964). It premiered in Sweden and Denmark, was screened In competition at the 41st Cannes International Film Festival in 1988, was shot on location in Sjælland and Bornholm in Denmark and is a Sweden-Denmark co-production which was produced by Danish producer Per Holst. It tells the story about Pelle and his father whom he calls Lassefar who during the late 1800s travels from Tommelilla in Sweden to the Danish Island of Bornholm with a group of Swedish emigrants in the hopes of a better life and ends up living in a barn at a place called Stengården which is managed by an exploitative boss and his complaisant son.

Finely and precisely directed by Danish filmmaker Bille August, this quietly paced fictional tale which is narrated from multiple viewpoints though mostly from the main character's point of view, draws a tangible and heartrending portrayal of a relationship between a widowed middle-aged man and his adolescent son, a degrading manager and his unruly employee and a young woman and man who's romance is damned and forbidden by the man's father due to their class differences. While notable for it's naturalistic and distinct milieu depictions, fine production design by production designer Anna Asp, exquisite cinematography by Swedish cinematographer Jörgen Persson and fine costume design by Swedish production designer and costume designer Kicki Illander, this character-driven and narrative-driven story which examines themes like survival, human dignity, friendship, prospects and the human condition, depicts two empathic and interrelated studies of character and contains a good score by Swedish composer Stefan Nilsson.

This historic, at times romantic and literary coming-of-age tale which is set in the late 19th century on an Island in the east of Denmark in the Baltic Sea, is impelled and reinforced by it's cogent narrative structure, substantial character development, subtle continuity, various characters and the reverent acting performances by Swedish actor Max Von Sydow, Danish actor and writer Pelle Hvenegaard in his debut feature film role, Swedish actor Björn Granath, Danish actress Astrid Villaume (1923-1995) and Danish actor Thure Lindhardt in his second feature film role. An epic, humane, atmospheric and heartfelt period drama from the late 1980s which gained, among numerous other awards, the European Film Award for Best European Actor Max Von Sydow at the 1st European Film Awards in 1988, the award for Best Young Actor in A Foreign Film Pelle Hvenegaard at the 10th Youth In Film Awards in 1989 and the Palme d'or at the 41st Cannes Film Festival in 1988.
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Pelle's Pursuit of Happiness
Ismaninb1 May 2007
Because of the similarities, I think it interesting to compare Pelle Erobreren with The Pursuit of Happiness (2006). In both movies we see a father/son relation. Both see father and son struggling to make a living. There it ceases.

Almost all differences are in favour of Pelle. Will Smith' son is an annoying little Mr Know-all. Pelle is a real kid, learning life lessons the hard way. Will Smith embodies the American Dream - his movie is not interested in all the thousands, who fail. Von Sydow's Lasse Karlsson is one of those losers. Still he only wants a quiet old age. The Pursuit is a cheesy tearjerker, constantly we are reminded of all the bad luck, the set backs. The Pursuit rubs it in our face: Will Smith and son are soooo pitiful! Lasse and Pelle Karlsson are not pitiful at all. They don't have time for it, as they are too busy coping with their hard life.

Consequently The Pursuit is a smooth movie, inevitably leading to its happy end. The spectator is expected to rejoice, after rooting for them. Being it so predictable, I could not. Pelle is not smooth at all. In fact the script is not very consistent. Quite a few sidelines are not fully developed, many characters remain vague. There are several open ends. That is the reason I don't give Pelle the full 10. But it is also true, that the fragmentary story far better paints real life, than all the Hollywood smoothness. We will never know, how far Pelle will get conquering America. Indeed, nor will his father.

When comparing, there is no question about acting, cinematography and scenery. Pelle Erobreren shows, why European movies can be so superior to Hollywood stuff, notwithstanding the much smaller budgets. See The Pursuit and Pelle shortly after each other - you will see, what I mean.
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heart-wrenching film
jeek28 November 1998
Pelle, the Conqueror is a unique, heart-wrenching film that details the mistreatment of poor by the rich, the inability to fulfil dreams, and eventually, a search for hope of a better life. A film that you won't forget. Don't pass it by in the video store.
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Not given the respect it deserves...
karLcx8 October 2003
This movie has been let down in the worst way by the folks who took it upon themselves to release the DVD versions. I had a Region 2 UK release that had the worst quality transfer I have seen on a DVD in a long time (full screen nonsense, crappy English dubbing ONLY?!). The Region 4 Australian DVD came close with a good transfer (and in widescreen!), and has both the original Danish, and the English soundtracks, but left off subtitles! Bah!!

Why can't a company just get it right, and release a good quality transfer WITH the subtitles, so we can all watch this movie how it should be watched? It is such a beautiful movie... it deserves it.

8/10 (would have been 10 if I could have had the subtitles)
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A Tribute To Immigration
Myshkin_Karamazov22 July 2005
Nearly 60 years old, Max Von Sydow gives a stupendous performance. He played memorable roles in Ingmar Bergman's classics of the 60s. Afterwards he fared well in horror movies like The Exorcist. He certainly left impression other times, if only upon the European audience. Yet, in my opinion, this is his best performance to date. He plays great failure to great success.

The film offers a deep insight into the life of immigrants from one country of Scandenavia to the other. Strange though it may seem today in the wake of current super-stardom of these countries in the arena of human development, the story remains true in nature, honest in details, dedicated to truth.

People, man, woman and child, have always been traveling around, looking for better things, better conditions to live and to die in. This immigration factor is a part of human nature. A ritual as old as life itself. People leave their place only to establish themselves another place. They do this out of necessity, for prosperity, in search for love, peace or health. They feel a pull towards their destination. Everything will be just fine there, they think. They keep on dreaming with their eyes half-open. Until they are made to open their eyes fully in the wake of reality. Lassefar keeps reminding himself he is not going to accept the first job offer, he is going to look for better terms, demand more. Still he is obliged to do exactly the opposite.

From that point onwards, destination achieved is no longer the "promised land", these weary immigrants had dreamed of. As it ceases to be their old dream, it turns into their new reality. Often so harsh that it makes difficult for them to decide whether they are better or worse off. Their great expectations unfulfilled, they begin to suffer and survive their new life. Miserable though they are, they are not ready to give up their dreams and reluctant to abandon their origins. But this, precisely, is what process of establishment demands. Otherwise, well, they can not count on the kindness of strangers.

So, they have to make their choices. They have to set their priorities right. If they want to exist and not merely be. Therefore, after a while or so, a compromise takes place. The newcomers silently and gradually accept the norms of their new world. They learn new rules, and practice to abide by them. At the same time, they begin to give their origins away, little by painful little. Some merely do not notice or pretend not to, others resist the current. But, all of them know.

Even then, they do not part with their beloved dreams. They sacrifice their past, useless for them anyway, for the future they think they have right to. They become even satisfied with their present. More at ease, if one dares say that. Lassefar's plans of second marriage exemplify this behavior.

Only thing needed to make the circle of immigrant life complete is the dream of a new and better world. Yet another promised land, only more fertile in riches, more extravagant in opportunities, more splendid in every imaginable detail.

They have sea awaiting at their doorsteps. Some day a ship will take them across it. To the other, far side of the world. To America.
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Von Sydow, the Conqueror
jcappy17 January 2008
I was expecting the Pelle character to be Max Von Sydow... anyway the boy Pelle hardly measures up to Von Sydow, but this is only one of this movie's shortcomings.

To begin, it is much too long. Clip the school scenes. The schoolmaster's role is inconceivably bad and his flock of sex-obsessed children is not only obnoxious but would make Freud himself squirm in his grave. Also, the daughter, and all scenes related to her sub-plot, should be cut. This role adds very little or nothing and seems inserted only to supply the sex/beauty demand. Drop a few other flat characters too---and you drop an hour from the movie.

Speaking of "Pelle's"characters, apart from Lasse (Von Sydow), they all seem to share an inert quality. It's as if they inhabit a Scandinavian winter scene painted by a second tier artist--beautifully set, but filled with people as props. Some are too stereotypical, some too gray, some too general---as if belonging to a wide-angle picture and not to a movie. And although the mother and Eric are potentially convincing and interesting characters it's as if their lines have been loaned out to them. In this sense, "Pelle" is too much like a TV movie.

Another kind of stereotype is the strong association here of poverty and farms with a kind of animal sexuality. The youngest child to the very old seemed to be defined more by a mindless sexual interest than by any other. I mean since when do 5-10 year old kids gang up on adult sexual behavior? Then there's the baron (and son to a point) who can never pass up a chance to roll in the grass and hay with their indentured farmhands. And does the mutilation material really fit an already morbid movie? I've scored "Pelle" a 6, but believe it closer to a 7 (7.8 needs to be countered) The movie, I think, does have three strengths, with the first overshadowing the other two.

Max Von Sydow's acting is exceptional, and it alone is worth the price of the ticket. Whatever problem there might be with his role, he overpowers it. He is utterly convincing as someone fated to poverty on one side and age on the other. Victimization seems to have seeped into his mind, spirit, and body. He calls on no tricks, and never deviates from the character he inhabits whether as a man cowering before the powerful wieldings of his masters, or buckling under one more shattered dream. He is as certain of himself as a proud and determined immigrant as he is as a broken and debilitated man. And he inevitably carries the movie's truth about oppression and discrimination on his back.

Photography is another positive. The Danish landscape, the isolated world of a large farm, the centering big house, the natural world of farmland and seascape, and the snowy winter scenes all add realism, romance, atmosphere, and a sense of place which so often seem lacking.

Finally it is rare to view so original a father-son relationship as the one portrayed here. It can teeter into sentimentality at rare moments--the boy actor is not Von Sydow---but the unabashed closeness between the two is remarkable. No matter how many falls from grace his failure to defend his son may entail, Lasse is a protective and truly loving father.
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torment of the human spirit
Lee Eisenberg9 September 2016
The opening scene in Bille August's "Pelle erobreren" ("Pelle the Conqueror" in English) shows a father and his son moving from their native country to a new one in search of a better life. The father finds work on a farm, but gets subjected to abuse every step of the way while his son gets bullied. The movie takes place in Denmark in the 1800s but could just as easily apply to a modern setting, as people continue to leave their native countries in search of a better life elsewhere, accepting the inevitable abuse. As for what we find out about the employer, that's probably a common occurrence also.

Max von Sydow puts in an outstanding performance as the desperate father, always thinking of his son. The movie won a well deserved Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, only the second Danish film to do so.

All in all, the Scandinavian countries have turned out some masterful cinema. I highly recommend this one. Bille August later directed the 1998 adaptation of "Les miserables".
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