I am fairly certain that without the existence of the DVD format Henning Carlsen's award winning feature Sult a.k.a Hunger (1966) would have been just another one of those hard to track down foreign films accessible only through secondary channels: college libraries, art-house screenings, film archives, etc. In fact, I do not believe that prior to its debut on the US market last month this Scandinavian film was ever offered through an official North American distributor. Fortunately, Project X and New Yorker Video have struck pure gold and the R1 release that I am holding in my hands looks and sounds absolutely terrific-something I am convinced many will be pleased to hear!!
Based on the well-known work by Norwegian writer Knut Hamsun Hunger chronicles the life of Pontus (Per Oscarsson), a struggling middle-aged writer, as he wanders through the streets of early 19th century Christiania. Each morning Pontus wakes up with the hope that this will be it, the day when his talent is finally recognized and his work published. As time goes by however and printing houses continue to turn him down Pontus finds himself on the edge-penniless, starving, and with little to keep his creative spirits up.
Yet, even though there is very little on the horizon suggesting that Pontus' struggles will soon be over the enigmatic writer continues to dream. Impressed by his determination to succeed a young and beautiful lady (Gunnel Lindblom) offers to help. Surprisingly, Pontus rejects her as his pride proves stronger than the hunger raging in his body.
Brilliantly executed Hunger is a film that works primarily because of two reasons. First, it is the brilliant adaptation of Knut Hamsun's novel which provides the cast with an enormously solid foundation to build upon. Danish director Henning Carlsen appears to have gelled together the intricate pieces of this multinational production perfectly-the actors' lines are carefully selected, the black and white cinematography is breathtaking, and the recreation of the old city of Oslo (with its frozen by the cold weather buildings) incredibly believable.
Second, it is the powerful performance by Per Oscarsson for which he was granted the Best Actor Award at the Cannes Film Festival in 1966. The struggling writer Per Oscarsson plays is a sea of emotions which not many actors are capable of revealing (certainly not to the extent witnessed in Hunger). From pride and defeat to hope and disappointment Per Oscarsson delivers a performance that easily ranks as one of the most impressive displays of acting talent I have ever seen captured on film.
Finally Hunger is a very unique Scandinavian project which teams up a Danish director, a cast of Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish actors, and a well-known Polish composer (Krzysztof Komeda, Rosemary's Baby) all united in their desire to retell a classic Norwegian novel.
Hunger was the winner of the Best Actor and Best Film Awards at the Bodil Awards (the Norwegian Oscars) in 1967. During the same year the film won the Best Actor Award at the Guldbagge Awards held in Sweden. Finally in 1969 the film was also recognized with the Best Actor Award during the National Society of Film Critics Awards in the USA.
How Does the Film Look?
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and enhanced for widescreen TV's Hunger looks incredibly strong. Revealing a progressive and properly converted anamorphic transfer this Project X release is very much what film aficionados have been asking New Yorker to produce-quality product. With strong black and white color gradation (well saturated and very rich colors), excellent degree of contrast, very fine film-grain, and very convincing detail (between the indoor scenes and the scenes shot in the park for example one could easily see how strong this transfer is) I am incredibly pleased with the way this R1 DVD looks. Now, the inevitable question here is: what would it take for New Yorker to reconsider their output as obviously they ARE capable of distributing quality DVDs (even though coming from the hands of another producer)?? As far as I am concerned if Project X took over each of New Yorker's "own" releases film buffs would be given a splendid Christmas present!! Is this a wishful thinking???
How Does the DVD Sound?
Presented with a Danish DD 2.0 track (with optional English and French subtitles) the audio presentation is just as impressive as the video treatment. Crystal clear and easy to follow dialog is what you will get from this DVD and as far as I am concerned Project X have done once again a superb job-hence there is nothing else to write home about.
In addition to the spending video and audio treatment Project X also deliver a healthy dose of quality extras:
-26 minute conversation with Paul Aster and Regina Hamsun (Knut Hamsun's granddaughter) in which the two discuss the work the film is based upon as well as the actual adaptation (the same interview appeared in the Danish R2 DVD).
A spectacular film which serious film buffs must take a look at Hunger arrives in an enormously high-quality package: video and audio presentations are impressive. As I mentioned above, one can only dream that one day New Yorker will see the light of day and will begin producing their "own" releases with such high standards. A well-deserved HIGHLY-RECOMMENDED mark!!