Knut Hamsun is Norway's most famous and admired author. Ever since he was young he has hated the English for the starvation they caused Norway during WWI. When the Germans occupy Norway on April 9, 1940, he welcomes them and the protection they can give from Great Britain. He supports the national socialist ideals, but opposes the way these ideals are turned into action - that Norwegians are jailed and executed. His wife Marie travels in Germany during the war as a sign of support from Knut and herself.Written by
Knut Hamsun (1859 - 1952) was, alongside Henrik Ibsen, the most famous figure in Norwegian literature. Hamsun published works over an astonishing span of 70 years. He won the Nobel prize in literature in 1920, by which time he was probably his nation's most internationally famous citizen. This film mentions his glory days, but takes place afterwards. In the 1930's, when Hamsun was already an old man struggling with his hearing and possibly his mental capacities, he fell out of grace by supporting Nazi Germany. He wasn't an anti-Semite, but hated the imperialist UK so much as to align himself with Hitler. This reached a (very negative) peak when Germany occupied Norway in 1940, and the author supported the occupiers. This massive film is a depiction of Hamsun's downfall. The years before WWII, the occupation, and the subsequent final years in disgrace.
The film is an international production, between Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Germany. It is directed by Swedish Jan Troell, and stars his oft-used actor Max von Sydow (also Swedish) as Hamsun, and Denmark's most famous actress Ghita Nørby as Marie Hamsun, the author's wife. The lead couple, who previously starred together in Bille August's "Den goda viljan" (1992), actually talk in their native languages, even though they play Norwegian characters. This is heavily audible for Scandinavian viewers, but you also get used to it really fast. Their acting abilities also make you want to let it slide. The rest of the cast is mostly Norwegian and German, depending on the characters they play. The film has an international feel to it, but the whole benefits from the larger budget, and the historical period looks believable.
Like so many great Scandinavian dramas, this is essentially a depiction of a troublesome marriage. It is Marie who first falls in love with Nazism, because it is shown to fill an emotional void in her life. When the traitorous Vidkun Quisling (played by the very evil-looking Sverre Anker Ousdal) finds out that his new fangirl is the wife of Norway's most famous writer, the Nazis take a quick interest in the man himself.
The film analyses the depth of the couple's guilt in a thorough manner. The running time of two and half hours allows us to go deep in their characters, which is of course supported by the intelligently structured screenplay and the fantastic performances. Max Von Sydow is fragile and tormented as Hamsun, a man past his prime who can't bring himself to act against the darkness that overcomes his nation. He struggles as he tries to believe that what he is doing is the right thing. This is one of the actor's finest performances outside of his Bergman roles. Ghita Nørby is likewise great as the manipulative Marie. The early scene where she works as her husband's translator and adds her own words to his, is possibly the best one to capsulate their complex relationship. The supportive cast is not fleshed out as well as the protagonists, but I did like the scene where Hamsun meets Adolf Hitler, played memorably by Ernst Jacobi. All in all, this is a fascinating account of history, a great character study and a nuanced drama.
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