In one of the most significant roles of his illustrious career, Max von Sydow’s performance as Knut Hamsun reveals just how much this great author was exploited by circumstance and the exigencies of age to become defamed in the homeland he most loved. Though he was by no means alone in support of ideals purported by Hitler’s Third Reich, he was one of the very few famous people in the world, outside Germany, to eloquently expound its virtues based far more on the rhetoric of such men as Joseph Goebbels, than on the actual horrors its practice obtained upon all humanity.
Indeed this film shares with the more objective of Hamsun biographers, the “filtering” aspect Hamsun’s wife played as she fell to her own innate weaknesses for the allure of undeserved prominence. For obviously the gifted writer had married far below the mark of any equal in intellect. But complexity is, just as much as all else, the grit of life and among such artists quite often love is not based on notions easily understood. Nor is devotion. The beauty of this film is how it captures this, and not just between husband and wife but between father and son, daughter and father.
To fully grasp the vast ability of Hamsun as a writer one must read his work. Then his reader will grasp the richness of his mind. And it is exceedingly rich. Even one such novel as Growth of the Soil will make one wonder if they must learn his native language in order not to miss anything. As if with Ibsen, as if with Doestoyevski.
No small wonder that the wonderful Norwegian people came very carefully to concerns of determining his complicity in “selling” Hitler to them. But the mitigating circumstances are profound, as the storyline of this wonderful move will portray.
Sydow is superb, becoming in aspect the aging internationally prominent author, marred tragically by his own hatred of a grasping empire’s historical misdeeds (those of the English,) and failing to see what stood before him as “Germany’s deliverer” could become even worse. In determining just how well informed he was of what he was supporting, psychiatrist’s showed him films of the prison camps holding what the Third Reich considered its derelicts. Hamsun broke down in weeping and remained insistant that he be tried as were any of the fifth columnists.
The lovely Ghita Norby plays Marie, Hamsun’s younger wife, diverted from her devotion to him by a cause celebre’ that satisfies her yearning for her own recognition at the expense of facing profound truth and its impending consequences. Her tortured state of mind throughout demonstrates the result of taking wrong turns in life and not acknowledging them until one faces a nation of accusation.
It is the mutual survival of this man and wife and their ultimate rejoining in and despite the gravest of social ostracism that makes this film a must to see. For as virtue untested is not virtue, so is love not enduring of ordeal, love.
Under the able direction of Jan Troell, this well referenced story of writer, Per Olov Enquist becomes an inspired reconciliation of a man once held as a national treasure to a nation that might otherwise reject him and his work en tota as a traitor.
Supporting cast is grand, nothing, expense or otherwise is spared. Aircraft and décor resplendent to the German war machine is painstakingly reproduced. The travel of Hamsun to Hitler’s retreat in the Bavarian Alps is authentic in every detail even that of an Hitler aide pointing out all the points of interest.
Closer examinations of history such as this perform more in healing the old wounds left than any one grinding an agenda to “justify” doing the same to others out of some mis-appropriated idea of vengeance. We’ve most recently seen this exampled in the excessive force used on the entrapped people of Gaza. And in the disassociated excuses represented in referring to the Holocaust in order to divert any further scrutiny.
But Norwegians were not so blindly diverted and began healing shortly after the war, reincorporating citizenry as best they could. Today WWII and its legacy is not so wounding as to deny the possibility such a truthful film as this being made. Would this reviewer could say this of his own country.
No nudity and though graphic in details of the Holocaust and its horrors, nothing not exposed to our young commonly. Very mature and adult, it might seem tedious to children, but then it might not. If you have a child already very curious about this historical period, it might be of interest. But for everyone else, and this reviewer means everyone, highly, highly recommended.