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1 rating: -5.0
A movie directed by Henning Carlsen

A starving writer in 1890's Norway stumbles through the streets in search of his own fantasies. His articles are all refused by editors until he is left penniless and without food. Though he is forced to subsist on paper and dust from his cupboard, … see full wiki

Release Date: 1966
MPAA Rating: Unrated
1 review about Hunger

Forferdelig (Norwegian for terrible)

  • Mar 29, 2008
Pros: Just the quality of the film, not what it shows

Cons: Pick up a handful of rocks and start throwing

The Bottom Line: Simply bad.

Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie''s plot.

Henning Carlsen’s 1968 film Hunger is a film version of Bop. Bop, as I understand it, was when Jazz artists started to see that Jazz could be art for the sake of musical art—for me Bop and its cinematic counterpart are one of those “if you have to ask” situations.

Hunger’s main character is the wholly unlikeable Pontus (Per Oscarsson). The film covers what appears to be about a week of his life in Kristiania in 1890. He considers himself to be a writer when what he spends most of his time doing is just walking. Pontus is hungry and nearly homeless throughout. He refuses, though, to take any charity offered even if the offer is done without pity. In fact, he acts like a nearly feral cat: appears to be calmish and normal but when the offer is made he springs (in his case he starts screaming all matters of nonsense to the offerer; he does so from a moral height Pontus simply does not have).

In the course of his wanderings there are two doings and one undoing. First there is a longing for and meeting with a beautiful woman he has named Ylajali (Gunnel Lindblom). The second is that he does, in fact write an article an editor wants to publish once Pontus tones it down a bit. The undoing is in this last—I will leave the details out in case someone wants to see this.

First I want to cover the few good things about the film. It is in a type of black and white that is an homage to Fritz Lang and Ingmar Bergman. The film contrast is so stark it looks like a slightly cleaned up version of Lang’s The Testament of Dr. Mabuse. Despite my dislike of the film as a whole, this part of it was effective in stopping me from turning the movie off altogether. There is also the homage that seems required of Scandinavian filmmakers: Ingmar Bergman. The camera lingers long on faces when stationary and following smoothly the antic pacing of the main character. There is also an interesting almost painterly quality. Pontus is never still; however, while he babbles on in a pawn shop or at the editor’s office, every other character makes his or her moves in a way as to appear motionless while Pontus explodes with anxiety. I didn’t exactly like this, but it is worth mentioning and it moves nicely to what sucks about Hunger.

The story is awful. I have no idea what kind of writer Knut Hamsun (whose novel inspired the film), but this film is a very bad advertisement for his talents. The story is also pathetic. Pontus’s pride is so pretentious that I was hoping for anything truly horrible to happen to him over the course of this very slow moving “motion” picture. At first I thought he was going to turn out to be a Scandinavian version of Raskolnikov (Crime and Punishment). Pontus has all the psuedo-intellectual qualities about him; he considers himself an artist; he holds himself above everyone despite eating meat from a bone like a dog; and he has dealings with a pawnbroker. I was ready for all the ethical arguments of Dostoyevsky’s masterpiece. Instead I get 2 hours of someone going through a slow epileptic fit while also being obsessed with the time (asking nearly everyone what time it is).

Given that Mr. Oscarsson is the main character and the one responsible for about 90% of the film’s words, the movie rests on his shivering shoulders. It fails; it falls. It makes no sense.

Hunger is one of the movies that gave true art movies a bad reputation (not “art”—read porn-- movies which were oddly enough Scandinavian too). It isn’t impossible to follow because it leads nowhere. The only emotion that I could see emanating from it is some version of loathing with nothing to balance it out. Balance isn’t required, but since there is only one emotion, that seems like a terrible gruel. At least Lars von Trier (another Scandinavian) knows how to stir more than one emotion at once; they are nearly all feelings we usually want to avoid feeling, but he has a palate with more than just one color.

Finally, it isn’t even bad enough to use as a soporific. A 2 hour infomercial would be a far better way to spend your time. Or better still . . . read.


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