Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Sult (Hunger) (1966)

For the first review of 2019 it is time for another of those special Danish entries in the Danish edition of the 1001 List. This one is called “Sult” and is a glorified piece of work. It is based and apparently closely follows a famous novel by Norwegian author Knut Hamsun and made quite a splash in 1966 with a Best Actor win in Cannes.

Needless to say I was both curious and excited to watch this movie for the first time. Sadly, it was not for me at all.

“Sult” was devised as a Scandinavian co-production with participants from Norway, Sweden and Denmark and the idea was that while the action takes place in Oslo, 1890 and all the characters are Norwegian, the actors would talk to each other in their own language. It is true that there is enough similarity that we generally understand each other, but from a viewer’s perspective it is very confusing and disturbing to listen to and, well, it simply does not work. Yet, this is merely a technicality.

The story is about a young poet, Pontus (Per Oscarsson) who is going around in Oslo. Pontus has no money and no food. He gets evicted from his crappy apartment and hunger is gnawing at him. He hopes to make money by publishing articles and in the meantime, he tries and fails to get jobs for which he is unsuited.

I can understand a story about suffering. Hunger is not fun and poverty is a very real issue. I can also understand a story about unemployment, there are good ones around and I can sympathize with the issue. The problem here is that there is no need for Pontus to suffer. I lost count of the number of times he is offered food, money or a place to sleep, but he always refuses, choosing his weird sense of pride rather than people taking pity on him. When he has money, he gives it away.

Instead Pontus is simply being stupid. In the beginning he is arrogantly stupid, then plain stupid and as the movie progresses his hunger is adding confusion to his stupidity. In other words, he is an ass. This makes it a tremendously difficult movie for me to watch. How can you help a person who does not want to be helped? Well, you can let him rot and that was basically where I ended up. I lost interest in Pontus and the movie and it became a very hard movie to get through. It is not made easier by the fact that this is all that is happening throughout the movie. There is no progressive plot, except that Pontus is getting more and more hungry, driving himself into disaster.

One could argue that pride and stubbornness are virtues and Pontus is an uncompromising example of this, but my counter argument is that he is an example of extreme arrogance and idiocy and a complete failure at facing reality. Not something to be encouraged.

“Sult” was an ordeal to watch, not for the suffering but for the stupidity. I had to chop it up and watch it in small bites and even then I had to do something else on the side, while I just could not wait to get this over with. That is hardly a description of a good movie and so my verdict is accordingly.

Technically this is probably a fine movie, but the result is so difficult to watch that I cannot recommend this to anyone.



  1. Hmmm ... I was wondering about this one. Speaking of Scandinavian, husband's mother tongue is Swedish but he says he always speaks English in Denmark because the Danes generally can understand him but he can never understand the answers.

    1. That sounds about right. Danish and Norwegian is very similar, our countries were combined for 400 years (what Norwegians call The 400 year Night...) and there is little trouble understanding each other. Swedish is more different. I can usually get along understanding Swedish unless it is dialect, but in my experience Swedes find it more difficult to understand Danish. When I was in Finland I found that nobody would understand me even if I understood them and so I had to talk English.
      In this movie one of the Danish actors had so much trouble understanding Per Oscarsson that the director had to tie a string to his leg so he would know when to speak his lines.