In an extra on New Yorker Video’s DVD release of Danish director Henning Carlsen’s Hunger (1966), based on the novel by Norwegian Nobel Prize winner and later Nazi sympathizer Knut Hamsun, Hamsun’s granddaughter reads the book’s first line to author Paul Auster: “Those were the days when I wandered around and starved in Christiana, that strange city which no one can escape without being marked for life.” Hamsun’s description of his fictional city could also apply to Carlsen’s startling film adaptation, with screenwriter Peter Seeberg. Few films penetrate, as deeply, the inner spiritual workings of both a man on the edge and the place that helped to put him there. The man, in this case, is a starving writer, literally. When we first see Pontus, played by a suitably gaunt Per Oscarsson, his poverty-induced famishment has already driven him to nibble at his remaining scraps of writing paper. Regardless, he clings defiantly to his last pencil nub while wandering cobblestone city streets in search of food, companionship, hope. What he finds instead, thrown into sharp relief, are the hundreds of everyday indignities and compromises, moral and otherwise, that poverty puts in one’s way. Among the shopkeepers, editors and other nattering bourgeoisie who plague him, Pontus is challenged by the city itself, which offers few, if any, spaces for solitude or solace in its crumbling tenements and jostling boulevards. In the deft hands of cinematographer Henning Kristiansen, Oslo itself (where the film was shot) becomes a richly textured and complex character as Pontus slowly goes mad. But thanks in large part to Oscarsson’s amazing performance, Pontus’ is a recognizable madness, born from an infinite frustration with a world that refuses to yield, no matter how sharp our protestations or how desperate our need.
Other recommended new releases: Arrested Development: Season Three (DVD); Fox Noir Collection: Fourteen Hours, Shock, Vicki (DVD); The Tick: Season One (DVD). Also released this week: DVD: Animal Charm; Baghdad E.R.; Brother Bear 2; Cars on Route 66; The Charles Bukowski Tapes; Comedy Gold, Jimmy Sturr, Live!; The Consequence; Darkwing Duck: Season One; Desperate Housewives: The Complete Second Season: The Extra Juicy Edition; Dwarves: FEFU: The DVD; Epitafios: The Complete First Season; Flavor Of Love: Unrated: The Complete First Season; Friends With Money; Happily Ever After: Robinita Hood; The Hard Corps; Her Majesty; Iron Island; Jewel of The Nile: Special Edition; Joan Rivers, (Still a)Live at the London Palladium (Allegedly!); Kill Your Idols; Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World; Lord of the Rings: Limited Editions; Mountain Patrol (Kekexili); Nip/Tuck: The Complete Third Season (Miami Skyline); Nip/Tuck: The Complete Third Season (Operating Room); Pretty in Pink: Everything’s Duckie Edition; Some Kind of Wonderful: Special Collector’s Edition; Prince in Hell; Rock Fresh; Romancing the Stone: Special Edition; Roots Daughters; Roseanne: Halloween Edition; Savage Sinema From Down Under: The Films of Mark Savage; Seduced and Abandoned; The Sentinel; Smut; Tailspin: Season One; Take the Lead; Talking To Heaven; Tap; Warlords: The Generals; Water; Wayans Family Presents: Thugaboo Sneaker Madness; White Nights.