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
Fascinating, slow, penetrating study of a bad marriage with an intellectual
I expected an entirely different movie. Having read a single review when Hamsun was released, and having heard of him only from listings of Nobel Prize winners, I thought this would be about the traducing of a man's loyalty to country, the political evolution of an intellectual celebrity's thinking. It's not.
The movie is instead one of the most penetrating looks at a distinctive and more often than not failing, marriage I've ever seen. The examination begins after the couple have already been married 35 years; they are a tempestuous, often bitter, and jealous former author of children's books (and in youth, an actress) who desires love from her spouse - and a proud selfish ill-tempered intellectual author who lives in splendid rural isolation and admits his wife's nature disappoints him. The story of marriage is simply fascinating - even though the relations with their five children are cryptically portrayed.
It would be hard to ever better von Sydow's performance as Hamsun (or even as a man growing very old) - or the actress (previously unknown to me)who played his wife - they are simply astounding. I definitely recommend this movie - it is in the same vein as Cries and Whispers or Scenes from a Marriage.
The question I thought the film would address - the responsibility of someone for his words during wartime - is only glancingly struck. Without any attempt to whitewash Hamsun's written opinions favoring the Nazis who had occupied Norway, the movie's author clearly makes Hamsun more sympathetic as a human being as the movie continues.
I think few would agree about where the line should be drawn on punishment for one's opinions in a free society - when that society is at war. Most think those from the democracies who sympathized with the Nazis and Fascists during the Second World War (e.g., Ezra Pound, Celine, deKock, P.G.Wodehouse, Hamsun) are villainous. But is this because they sided with Nazis or because they sided with their country's enemies? Surely in a free society in peacetime, Ezra Pound's anti-semitic ravings and pro-fascist sympathies would not be punished as treason - any more than those who spoke, but did nothing, in favor of Stalin in America during the 1950s were ever tried for treason.
Clearly in a free society, the crime is not that one has taken a particular position, but that one has spoken in favor of an enemy during wartime. But if this is so, then what is one to say of those Americans who wrote to denounce the United States' war with North Vietnam? Or with Iraq? If we do refuse to label such writings as treason (and most probably do - few call for thousands of trials for treason), why? Could it be simply because neither Iraq nor North Vietnam was likely to so succeed that they would occupy the United States? If Iraq were winning so resoundingly that it now occupied parts of the United States, would writings denouncing the war and in favor of Iraq THEN be treason? Probably most would say so.
But by what logic does treason depend on whether one is winning or losing a war?
Further, if we assume a war between different ideologies, should those who have expressed sympathy for another country's ideology BEFORE any war - at a time when no one could have called it treason - be expected to completely forswear their former opinions the date the war is declared against that country? If so, is this not a strange definition of treason? That someone with PRE-WAR sympathies for a certain position must denounce his previous sympathies when his country goes to war against a country that shares his own beliefs?
Must someone perform an about face from his own repeatedly expressed views -- whenever his country enters a war - or be guilty of treason? Betray yourself or you betray your country? If so, is this not a demerit in any society professing to be free?
And yet no one can doubt that one's own country's success is badly affected (and conversely the enemy is uplifted) to the extent that influential people denounce their own government and praise the enemy - particularly when under enemy occupation.
The issues of treason for opinions are quite complex - but are scarcely touched on in this movie.
And that is fine - this is another movie altogether, psychologically penetrating, fascinating study of old age, of a poor marriage, of the unforeseen future as disappointment, of the yearning to die when old.
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