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Superb portrayal of arrogance... and loneliness
Murder Slim27 August 2010
Knut Hamsun's novel 'Hunger' is one of the better known books of the "outsider" canon. It's a great book, but one that must have been difficult to adapt into 'Sult'. It's written in first person, and has a dreamlike and rambling feel as the starving writer battles to write a masterpiece and raise enough money for a meal.

'Sult' starts worryingly. Carlsen's opening shots of the streets of Christiania (Oslo) in 1890 - with wacky carnival music for the theme tune - are reminiscent of a student film. The movie rapidly improves though... as soon as Per Oscarsson starts to act.

Oscarsson genuinely looks starved and near death, with hollow eyes and a teetering walk in the wind. Yet he also captures Pontus' showy arrogance and refusal to admit to anyone that he is starving. Oscarsson walks that line perfectly, and there's enough in his looks and movement to gradually draw sympathy. I found myself willing for Pontus to just ask for help... to the point I wanted to shake him... but he ploughs resolutely on, convinced he'll write something that will blow people's minds.

The film has also been criticised for portraying a stereotype of a starving artist. The counter argument is 'Sult' was one of the first literary portrayals of this stereotype. And even if Pontus isn't as much of a surprise as he would have been 40 - or 100 - years ago, the character is easily interesting enough to maintain attention. There's also plenty of black comedy in the scenes where Pontus visits the pawnbroker and offers ludicrous things for sale, while he still desperately tries to come across as moneyed and intellectual.

I think Carlsen did a superb job of capturing the spirit of 'Hunger', without following it slavishly enough to hurt the visual flow. The film doesn't use lengthy voice-overs, and prefers to let the acting and the situations show Pontus' complex mental state. For that reason, 'Sult' should play for both fans of 'Hunger' and for viewers interested in outsider folks fighting to exist. Sure, the cinematography lacks flair and the movie will be too slow for some, but it's a rewarding and thought provoking movie.
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A classic worthy of Bergman and Bresson
Howard Schumann30 July 2007
Warning: Spoilers
At first glance, Pontus (Per Oscarsson) looks like a well-groomed businessman but on second look, there is something not right. His smile reveals a core of rotting teeth and his manner seems odd. He follows two young women on their walk through the city of Christiana (later Oslo) in Norway in 1890, yet keeps telling one of the women that she has dropped her book. He stops a policeman to inquire about the time, but insists that the officer is in error. Based on Norwegian author Knut Hamsun's psychological novel of the same name, Henning Carlsen's Hunger probes the inner working of the mind of a talented young writer living in poverty and on the verge of insanity.

Shot in black and white, the film captures the bleakness of a world looking for a soul. Oscarsson totally captures the struggling author in a magnificent performance for which he won the award for Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival. Not only is he in every scene in the film, but the film can scarcely even be conceived of without his presence. Pontus wanders the streets of Christiana moving from a semblance of rationality to hallucinatory madness yet still retaining his dignity and cool intelligence. Though he is reduced to trying to sell his glasses, the buttons from his jacket, and his only overcoat in order to stay alive, he refuses assistance from friends, and when he does come into a bit of money, he promptly gives it away. Though his poverty and suffering appears to be self-inflicted (there are hints he could go home to a cottage in the country), psychologically he is not in full control.

Pontus has submitted an article for publication and his hopes are bound with the editor's decision. Told to come back the next day at 3:00 PM., the hours go slowly as he tries to negotiate renting a room with the promise to pay the next day. The editor at last recognizes his talent but tells him to tone his article down and bring it back the next day, at which time there will be some money waiting for him. Asked by the editor whether he needs money, his pride does not allow to admit the obvious and he refuses help, seemingly attached to his deprivation as if he has staked out a position that he must defend at all costs.

He is moved almost to tears when a lovely blonde he names Ylajali (Gunnel Lindblom) takes an interest in him but apparently his presence in her home does not fit her picture of the romantic starving artist and the relationship ends quickly. Staying alive by scraping meat from dog bones, Pontus grasp on reality slowly fades but he maintains his dignity while refusing to compromise with the world, yelling insults to God for the mess he is in rather than seeking to find a way out. Oscarsson's portrait is unforgettable and makes what could have been a very depressing film into a tribute to the worth and dignity of every human being, regardless of their circumstances. Hunger is a classic film worthy of Bergman and Bresson.
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desperate tension like Dostojevskij
Andreas Baumann1 November 2007
This film describes like no other movie a feeling of desperation, hunger and life's meaninglessness. You get in a horrible mood watching it, but you can't take your eyes off the screen. It reminded me a lot of "Raskolnikov" ("Crime and Punishment") by Dostojevskij and a bit of Tom Kristensen's "Hærværk" ("Vandalism"). I did not think movies could be like this - irrational, desperate and oppressive. Per Oscarsson's role as the writer Pondus is moving and exceptionally good. He seems to be a good person, but his moral is tested to the limits, when he by mistake gets too much money back in a grocery. He describes with precise accuracy the dilemma between moral and one's own needs - hunger and love. Watch it, sense it!
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Great Film about a Great Book
This, difficult to find film, merits close examination under the eyes of any reader of modernist literature. Written by Knut Hamsun and based entirely on his experiences of suffering, moral degradation, starvation and humiliation at the hands of the bourgeoisie of Oslo (Kristiana) whose petty values were mired in mockery, snobbish class attitudes and haughtiness, truly explores the conscious soul of a writer. The director uses subtle techniques to introduce us to the Oslo of Hamsun's time, replete with arrogant shop owners, horse carriages and stupid followers of the Christian religion. For most of the film, the lead actor, played wonderfully by Per Oscarsson, who is still alive and making films at the age of 77, suffers starvation and yet he is truly determined to live his "miserable existence" in the realm of human absurdity. A gorgeous piece of art and redeemable film whose magnetic images are still important today.
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Starvation, Self-Esteem, Pride and Arrogance – One of the Most Complex Characters I Have ever Seen
Claudio Carvalho7 May 2011
In 1890, in Christiania, the penniless aspirant writer Pontus (Per Oscarsson) is unemployed and starved, and near to be evicted from his poor room in a low-budget boarding house. The lonely Pontus has written an article and his hope is that the editor of the local newspaper buys his literary composition to raise money to have a meal and pay his debts to his landlord. However, Pontus is too proud and arrogant to accept any charity or money in advance and despite his poor appearance, he insists to tell other people that he does not need any alms. Further, his honesty does not allow him to keep a change wrongly given to him. The hunger Pontus is becoming delusional and having daydreams due to the lack of food. When the weirdo Pontus sees the gorgeous Ylajali (Gunnel Lindblom) walking on the street with her sister, he flirts with her. Sooner the editor asks him to rewrite his article in an appropriate language of newspaper and Ylajali dates him, and it seems that his dreams will finally come true.

"Sult" is an impressive, depressive and heartbreaking character study of one of the most complex characters I have ever seen. The viewer does not have information about the past of Pontus, but his behavior indicates that he was from the aristocracy of the upper-classes that has moved to Norway expecting to become a successful writer but that is actually a loser. Or that he feels superior to the other people and also inferior, at the same time. His personality is contradictory since even under a deep starvation,he keeps his self-esteem, pride and arrogance, capable to hock his jacket to give a handout to a beggar.

Pontus does not give-up and only when he indirectly receives money from Ylajali, he is capable to return to his country. I have never read the novel of Knut Hamsun, but it certainly might be a depressing story. Per Oscarsson has one of the best performances I gave ever seen and participates in every scene through his presence, his visions or his feelings. My vote is eight.

Title (Brazil): "Fome" ("Hunger")
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E.B. Hughes (ebh)21 May 2003
Perhaps the last reviewer simply didn't get this deep emotional film. This won top awards at Cannes. Simply a great piece of art, with incredible acting, beautifully detailed direction, and glorious photography. Shame on shallow reviewers who need to school themselves in the fine art of filmmaking.
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MESSAGES of misery and creeping despairs
Prokievitch Bazarov22 August 2006
MESSAGES of misery and foreboding were flashed by in this great picture that was shown to me, and suddenly the air of geniality that was wafted into my surrounding was chilled.

This feature was "Hunger," a Norwegian-Danish-Swedish film that depicts the miseries of a penniless would-be writer in Christiana, Norway, toward the end of the last century.

It might be classed as fascinating but definitely a painful tours de forc, the first reason because of its smashing simulation of catastrophic reality, and the second because of the tormented and poignant performance Per Oscarsson gives in the principal role.

"Hunger," based on the novel by Knut Hamsun, is a pictorial study in a thin dramatic form of the Old-World romantic eccentricities,, hallucinations and creeping despairs of a young author dying of starvation, which he is too proud and foolish to reveal.

It is brilliantly played by Mr. Oscarsson, who stretches so tightly the nerves and the muscular movements of this fellow that he communicates a racking, haunting sense of a misguided, hopeless romantic methodically choking himself. For this performance, he was given the best acting award at the Cannes Film Festival.

Gunnel Lindblom is shadowy but touching in the pathetically sketchy role of a genteel young woman who is also starving and joins the writer in one pitiful grab at love. Henning Carlsen's direction is appropriately mordant and gaunt.
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Excellent attempt to film ephemeral story.
jonny m15 May 1999
Some stories are near-impossible to put on the screen, but this attempt is both honest and well done. Hamsun's fine rendition of his plight in early years to make it as writer is conveyed with insight and artistry.
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romarblanc31 May 2006
Warning: Spoilers
This movie left me speechless..., simply said. It's amazing how Per Oscarsson portrays that starving writer trying to live in 19th century Oslo. He is convinced he is a genius so he tries unsuccessfully selling his works and nobody cares of it. He is unable to find another job... It's strange but although he suffers from paranoia and then he finds himself absolutely good, you cant sympathize with him..., there is a moment in the movie actually great: he is eating a bone and then he gets ill..., and he starts crying..., that moment is... i have read the novel and i know how difficult is to show in images a novel that is whole a monologue...; I think that Oscarsson is a cold performer..., i mean: he is a Great actor in this movie..., but the way he portrays the writer doesn't make you feel anything for him..., in the novel and in the movie you know that he cames from the country..., so this is a story about a man who fights against everything and everybody in order to achieve his goals..., at the end he heads for a sea trip... Read the novel, feel it, watch the movie, feel it... Beautiful black and white photography with sharp contrast.
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Definitive Portrait Of A Down And Out Eccentric
lchadbou-326-2659211 January 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Henning Carlsen's adaptation of a famous Knut Hamsun novel is rightly remembered today for Per Oscarsson's performance as Pontus, a starving writer,looking for work, who doesn't want to admit to others (or to himself) how desperate he is and instead puts on airs, There is some precedent for such a character in film, in Louis Jouvet's downtrodden aristocrat in the Jean Renoir version of Maxim Gorky's The Lower Depths. In a key scene, Pontus sees himself getting down on all fours on a cobbled street to challenge a big black dog for a meat bone. As Pontus walks up and down the Christiana quarter, he keeps running into people. He's also obsessed with an attractive blonde (Gunnel Lindblom) and stalks her and her companion. When she actually invites him in to her place (he has been asked to leave his flat) the story, such as it is ( actually more of a character study) slows down somewhat, and the idea that such a genteel lady would accept a man who is basically a bum as her sexual partner seems more like something out of the 1960s than the 1890s, the film's period.Nonetheless the film doesn't sentimentalize the sad situation and all elements contribute effectively to the convincing atmosphere: the music, by Roman Polanski composer Krzysztof Komeda; the set design; the black and white lensing (though the occasional zoom shot, also a 1960s artifact, is distracting) I would like to compare "Hunger" with other screen versions of Hamsun.
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Near Perfect Black And White
valis194911 February 2009
If you enjoy beautiful, Black and White films, HUNGER is one for you to enjoy. The film captures the look and feel of 1890 Oslo to perfection. According to the commentary, in 1966 this picturesque area of the city still existed, and the film was shot on location. Another compelling aspect of this film is the depiction of 'madness'. Per Oscarsson's portrayal really allows the viewer to inhabit his skewed paranoid world.

Dozens of films have demonstrated insanity caused by drugs, alcohol, and sexual obsession. However, in this movie the protagonist is pushed over the edge by sheer force of will.

His unyielding and rigid moral code will not allow him to take even the most reasonable course of action. The movie is bleak and somber, yet one is able to empathize with the character. In fact, the last scene in the film-the last expression on Pontus's face-leaves the viewer with a wide range of possible interpretations. Is the character embracing a new and hopeful turn of events, or is he under the spell of a new obsession?
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This movie really made me starve!
locdawg21 April 1999
Excellent performances by Per Oscarsson, who portrays the starving writer who wanders the streets of Cristiania in search of love and a chance to get his work published. I really liked the way it was filmed, and how we get to look into Oscarssons mind through pictures and music.
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Begger's Banquet Napkin
tedg28 February 2007
Superficially, this is a collection of tableaux concerning a writer who is so caught up in the identity of a writer that he cannot write, and therefore is starving, both in terms of food, and in terms of the written product. Its actually pretty satisfying at this level. We get it. The character within gets no such nourishment but we as viewers do.

So there's a sort of twist built into the thing, we see a tubelocked artist and depend on an efficient artist to receive the art that conveys this. That means the manner of the way it is constructed matters, and that's why you may want to see this. Because its a complex calculation that the filmmaker has to make. There's a balance here between art that escapes the artist and art that doesn't.

I don't know the book, but presume it is rooted in internal dialog, noted here in a few spots with muted tones and the appearance of our artist as listener for his ramblings. But it is an afterthought in the film. The real center here is in the antiseptic stance we are placed in as viewers. We see but cannot touch. We always find ourselves just a bit beyond the perimeter of this man's artistic reach. Its us that cannot reach him, not he that has trouble reaching us.

Oddly, this reversal works. It may be just me and my deep obsessions with narrative agency, but I think a deliberate decision was made here as sort of role reversal and symmetric reflection at the same time. Its characteristic of Scandanavian film problemsolving.

Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
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Character Study Comes Up Short
jhclues27 April 2001
An intriguing character study that focuses on a few days in the life of a writer in 1890 Christiania, `Hunger,' directed by Henning Carlsen, stars Per Oscarsson as Pontus, a starving artist seeking more than just the sustenance of food. Though living in the middle of town, he is emotionally isolated, cut off from the real world because of a perpetual state of disorientation that makes connecting with any reality beyond that which exists in his own mind impossible. Psychological, as well as physical hunger induces the erratic, irrational behavior he exhibits, often at the most inopportune times. Working sporadically on an article throughout the day, the bulk of his time is spent dreaming-- at times hallucinating-- and simply struggling for survival. Yet his suffering is seemingly by choice; there are indications throughout the film that leaving the city to go back to the country, and apparently his home, is an option that is open to him. One he rejects, however, out-of-hand. And while he longs for nourishment of soul and body, because of his mental state and his inability to negotiate even the simplest social amenities, his needs remain elusive, just out of reach. Pontus fails to recognize that the pride and ego that may have at one time sparked the flint of his artistry have now become detrimental, not only to his work, but to his very existence.

Carlsen's presentation is fairly academic, and the clinical approach he takes to the material has a way of keeping the audience somewhat at arms length; it doesn't afford the emotional involvement that would've made this a memorable film. As it is, it's compelling to a point, but never manages to deliver what it seems to promise, especially early on. Though Carlsen does a good job overall-- his characters are believable, and the pace he sets, aided by the stark black & white photography, exacts that sense of realism necessary for a film like this to work-- it would've been interesting to see this story developed by someone like Ingmar Bergman, who always had his finger on the pulse of his material and had an affinity for being able to convey the innate humanity of his characters to the screen. Carlsen simply doesn't take the story far-- or deep--enough. And the brief interlude Pontus has with a young woman he calls Ylajali (Gunnel Lindblom) stretches credibility a bit, while the ambiguity of the Rimbaudesque ending is less than satisfying.

Oscarsson gives a solid performance as Pontus, his manner and appearance evoking a cross between Tom Courtenay and Guy Pearce; but there's nothing in the character or the way he's played to elicit much sympathy. In the end you're left with the feeling that all of what has happened is rather self-indulgent and unnecessary, while raising some question as to the prudence of suffering for one's art. For how can one deprived of physical and mental faculties hope to create? And that is the very issue it appeared Carlsen was attempting to address until the very end of the film, which compromises any statement he had intended to make.

The supporting cast includes Birgitte Federspiel (Ylajali's Sister), Knud Rex (Landlord), Hans W. Petersen (Grocer) and Henki Kolstad (Editor). An interesting, but less than engrossing character study, `Hunger' in the end, is a slice-of-life examination of the human condition that comes up a bit short and leaves you with a feeling every bit as ambiguous as the ending. Had Carlsen been able to maintain the strength of the early part of the film and carry it through to the end, it could've been exceptional; as it is, for those interested in all aspects of filmmaking and who invite comparison, it's worth a look. But anyone seeking an in-depth, riveting character study, or especially those just looking for an evening's entertainment, would be better served looking elsewhere. I rate this one 5/10.
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Existential Comedy
TroelsChristian16 December 2003
Warning: Spoilers
Most people see this film as a sort of tragedy, but in my eyes it is a beautiful comedy comparable to Beckett's "Waiting for Godot". It narrows in on the fundamentals of the human condition, and the main character - like Beckett's - is a 'clown'-figure, a man who can't help himself, who has a fatal dent in his character, which always make him 'trip' and fall. It's like watching an existential, intellectual version of Chaplin's famous vagabond. And the ending, Pontus sailing away from the city in the fog, on an unknown ship, headed God knows where, is a classical fool-comedy-ending - there's no place in society for a man like him, so he leaves on the fools ship. One of the best Danish films ever.
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