• James Rutherford

'Pelle the Conquerer': A Resounding Depiction of Human Resilience and Reclamation


Movie poster for the Swedish film Pelle the Conquerer starring Max von Sydow and Pelle Hvenegaard

Set in the 1850s, Pelle the Conqueror (Pelle Erobreren) is a Danish-Swedish drama from 1987 about an elderly man named Lasse (Max von Sydow) and his young son Pelle (Pelle Hvenegaard) who emigrate from southern Sweden to the Danish island of Bornholm in search of employment and better loving conditions.


Desperate to earn a living wage, Lasse finds labor on a large farm, where he and Pelle are mistreated and discriminated against by their fellow workers as lowly Swedish foreigners. The storyline follows their gradual adjustment to this new environment, as Pelle gradually gains confidence in the Danish language and attends school, while Lasse suffers under the fierce leadership of the brutal Kongstrup (Axel Strøbye).


Based on the 1910 novel by Danish author Martin Andersen Nexø, Pelle the Conqueror is a profound depiction of 19th-century subsistence and desperation from Danish filmmaker Bille August (The Best Intentions, Les Misérables), that delivers a strikingly moving depiction of human resilience and reclamation. It's absorbing and uncompromising storytelling that sits amongst the best of 1980's European cinema.

 

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