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Anchor Bay presents
Pelle the Conqueror (1989)

"As soon as the manager pays me, I'll go out and conquer the world. Across the ocean. The whole damn world, Pelle. It's there, waiting for you. It's almost too easy."
- Erik (Bjorn Granath)

Review By: Dan Heaton  
Published: June 20, 2001

Stars: Max Von Sydow, Pelle Hvenegaard
Other Stars: Erik Paaske, Bjorn Granath, Axel Strobye, Astrid Villaume
Director: Bille August

MPAA Rating: PG-13
Run Time: 02h:29m:51s
Release Date: April 24, 2001
UPC: 013131126693
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- AB-B D+

DVD Review

Pelle (Pelle Hvenegaard) is traveling to Denmark - a land of hope and economic promise for struggling Swedish immigrants in the 19th century. While the boat moves closer to the shore, his father, Lasse (Max Von Sydow of The Seventh Seal, Needful Things), optimistically describes the wonders of their new life in this great land. Pelle's eyes are filled with happiness and optimism, and it appears things will turn around for them. After they reach the landing, however, the sad facts of their predicament become very clear. Lasse is too old to be a valuable worker, and Pelle is only a young boy. Although they finally do locate a job, it is at a low-end farm where troubles exist at every corner. Lasse only wants to settle down to a place where he can have "coffee in bed on Sunday mornings". Can they survive and achieve his goal in this difficult environment?

In Pelle the Conqueror, director and screenwriter Bille August intimately explores Lasse and Pelle's hardships with a realistic tone that makes their story more believable and touching. While avoiding cheap melodramatic conventions or tricks, he depicts the events in a straightforward and impressive manner. Life may appear bleak for the workers on the farm of Kongstrup (Axel Strobye), but their own dreams remain ingrained within their minds and hearts. Erik (Bjorn Granath) holds out expectantly for the day when he'll have enough money to make the journey to America. A free-spirited fellow, he must grin and bear through the rough treatment to achieve his ultimate goal. Anna (Kristina Tornqvist) has fallen in love with Kongstrup's son, but any lasting joy in their relationship is probably impossible. However, she doesn't give up and holds out for a time when their love will be out in the open. Each character's story contains a refreshing level of realism and caring that is often lacking from so-called "melodramas" released in Hollywood. Although the conditions are frustrating, it's enjoyable to receive a personal look at intriguing characters.

Max Von Sydow earned a well-deserved Academy Award® nomination in 1989 for his heart-wrenching turn as Lasse Karlsson. Realizing that his life is reaching its final chapter, he seeks an amicable woman to make his last years more comfortable and loving. When he strikes up a relationship with Mrs. Olsen (Karen Wegene), the result is an interesting combination of tenderness and necessity. Their connection probably isn't love, but it does stem from a mutual understanding of what the other desires from life. Lasse also cares deeply for his son, Pelle - an intelligent, remarkable boy whose plans surpass the scope of his simpler father. He spends much of his days observing events in action and learning valuable lessons about the world. Unfortunately, the rest of his time is spent running from crude, young bullies who feel the need to pick on the foreign boy. Young Pelle Hvenegaard does an excellent job in portraying the turbulent thoughts and emotions of this child who is learning some cruel lessons about human nature.

This film's greatest achievement is the way it creates a human community and makes each element believable and interesting. Although their work is difficult, the group still finds time to enjoy themselves, dance, and have a good time with their life. Although Pelle is the focus of the story, numerous smaller stories retained my interest and helped to warrant the extensive running time. One sadly compelling story line is the continued lechery of Kongstrup and its effect on his mournful wife. She accepts his flaws and continues to love him, but one final incident pushes her over the line. Even characters with extremely brief screen time make an impression, including the slow, gangly Rudd (Troels Asmussen). This awkward boy is Pelle's first friend, and his ultimate destination, while far different from normal, is exactly where he wants to be.

Based on Martin Andersen Nexo's four-novel series, Pelle the Conqueror shrinks an epic story and turns it into an emotionally moving film about tragedy and personal triumph. The tight bond between Pelle and Lasse keeps them moving forward, but eventually they must each pursue their differing goals. The final outcome makes perfect sense for their characters, but is still troubling because of the unknown future that lies ahead for them.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Pelle the Conqueror's 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer contains scenes of sparkling beauty and color, but unfortunately the overall product is only mediocre. Large amounts of grain arise in several cases, especially early on in the film, and this takes away from what could have been a decent transfer. The bleak, snowy landscape appears perfect in one scene, than reverts to a hazier look in the next one. While this transfer is watchable and does contain impressive clarity at times, it could have been a lot better.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Danishyes

Audio Transfer Review: Contrary to many foreign film releases, this disc contains the option of choosing between the original language track and the dubbed English track. Although I chose the Danish track in order to hear the actual sounds, it still provides a nice option for audiences. Both tracks come in 2.0-channel Dolby Surround tracks that feature good clarity but are nothing spectacular. The slow and moving score springs impressively from the speakers, but the volume level remains fairly low throughout the film. Much of the story revolves around dialogue, which makes the track quiet. Even the more emotional scenes stay soft for the most part. Overall, these transfers are solid, but fail to perform much above the expected level.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 29 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Alpha
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: The lone supplement of this disc is the theatrical trailer, presented here in a 1.66:1 widescreen format. It focuses on the critics' response to this heralded film and includes quotes from well-known reviewers. As I mentioned above, the inclusion of both language tracks is a nice addition. It is also noteworthy for widescreen television owners that the English overlap outside the picture and onto the borders.

Extras Grade: D+


Final Comments

Spurred by the remarkable lead performance of Pelle Hvenegaard and a sturdy, understated performance by Max Von Sydow, Pelle the Conqueror burst onto the scene and won both the Golden Globe and Academy Award® for Best Foreign Film in 1989. Its success stems from a forthright realism that makes each individual understandable, regardless the motivations between the actions. Bille August shoots the bleak, cold landscape of Denmark with precision and clarity, and it lends an imposing air to the events occurring on the screen. Filled with memorable scenes of energy and power, I highly recommend this film, especially for viewers searching for intelligent fare from other countries.


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