At first glance, Pontus (Per Oscarsson) looks like a well-groomed businessman but on second look, there is something not right. His smile reveals a core of rotting teeth and his manner seems odd. He follows two young women on their walk through the city of Christiana (later Oslo) in Norway in 1890, yet keeps telling one of the women that she has dropped her book. He stops a policeman to inquire about the time, but insists that the officer is in error. Based on Norwegian author Knut Hamsun's psychological novel of the same name, Henning Carlsen's Hunger probes the inner working of the mind of a talented young writer living in poverty and on the verge of insanity. Shot in black and white, the film captures the bleakness of a world looking for a soul. Oscarsson totally captures the struggling author in a magnificent performance for which he won the award for Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival. Not only is he in every scene in the film, but the film can scarcely even be conceived of without his presence. Pontus wanders the streets of Christiana moving from a semblance of rationality to hallucinatory madness yet still retaining his dignity and cool intelligence. Though he is reduced to trying to sell his glasses, the buttons from his jacket, and his only overcoat in order to stay alive, he refuses assistance from friends, and when he does come into a bit of money, he promptly gives it away. Though his poverty and suffering appears to be self-inflicted (there are hints he could go home to a cottage in the country), psychologically he is not in full control. Pontus has submitted an article for publication and his hopes are bound with the editor's decision. Told to come back the next day at 3:00 PM., the hours go slowly as he tries to negotiate renting a room with the promise to pay the next day. The editor at last recognizes his talent but tells him to tone his article down and bring it back the next day, at which time there will be some money waiting for him. Asked by the editor whether he needs money, his pride does not allow to admit the obvious and he refuses help, seemingly attached to his deprivation as if he has staked out a position that he must defend at all costs. He is moved almost to tears when a lovely blonde he names Ylajali (Gunnel Lindblom) takes an interest in him but apparently his presence in her home does not fit her picture of the romantic starving artist and the relationship ends quickly. Staying alive by scraping meat from dog bones, Pontus grasp on reality slowly fades but he maintains his dignity while refusing to compromise with the world, yelling insults to God for the mess he is in rather than seeking to find a way out. Oscarsson's portrait is unforgettable and makes what could have been a very depressing film into a tribute to the worth and dignity of every human being, regardless of their circumstances. Hunger is a classic film worthy of Bergman and Bresson.
In 1890, Pontus, the starving writer, wanders the streets of Christiania, in search of love and a chance to get his work published. All he meets is defeat and suffering while his sense of ...
October 12, 2020